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The Story of Tan Son Nhat Airport

As the plan for Saigon's massive Long Thanh Airport moves forward (despite some objections), we thought we'd take a minute to look back at the long history of old standby, Tan Son Nhat. 

The original airport, little more than a landing strip, was built by the French (surprise!) in the 1930’s near the village of Tan Son Nhat which was, at the time, far outside of the city limits.

The airport, initially built for commercial flights between Saigon, France and SE Asia, was converted to a transport base while under Japanese occupation during WW2.

Shortly after the war, the airport was militarized by returning French forces and, in 1956, the headquarters of the French 'Vietnamese Armée de l'Air (VALA)’ was moved to Tan Son Nhat (called Tan Son Nhut until 1975).

Tan Son Nhat falls to North Vietnamese forces (1975).

The airport was continually upgraded and expanded as the US took on a larger military role in Vietnam. By 1968, Ton Son Nhat was one of the busiest airports in the world. Starting with the 1968 Tet Offensive, the airport became a favorite target for NVA forces and was one of the last dominos to drop before the fall of Saigon in 1975 (see above image).

After the American War, the airport was converted back to civilian use and, over the years, has received major restorations (2000 and 2007). Today, the airport is the busiest in Vietnam, handling over two thirds of the country’s annual 15 million passengers (Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport checks in second with 8 million passengers annually). These numbers are rapidly rising and, by 2015, the airport will be enlarged to accommodate 23.5 million passengers.

We've managed to collect some pretty remarkable photos which document the airport's history.

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