MIAMI – The pandemic has meant and still means dire times for airports, with all traffic having taken a downturn since last year and the light at the end of the tunnel not in view. However, there are exceptions and Chateauroux Airport (CHR) is one of them.

Traffic at CHR is going steady and business is at hand, not because of increased passenger traffic – CHR counts for a mere 8,000 passengers per year – but for arrivals and long, very long stays in addition to departures but only when the actual crisis ends.

The reason: CHR is a vast aircraft storage area, 62 acres (25 hectares) of parking space capable of accommodating from a small two-seater to an Antonov Mriya 225, the largest cargo aircraft flying today. Also, CHR is a cargo flight destination that has lately seen medical supplies passing thru its facilities.

Châteauroux Airport old tower (In the background the new tower under construction) – Photo : Châteauroux Airport via Instagram

History of Chateauroux Airport

The airport is situated in the Centre-Val de Loire region in France, a region in the center of the country and in the Indre department, near the city of Chateauroux in Deols, and has a long history.

Its creation dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The first flight performed by a Bleriot aircraft takes place on October 17 and 18, 1909. In 1936 a certain Marcel Bloch, best known in aviation as Marcel Dassault, creator of the military Mirage, Rafale, and the executive Falcon family aircraft, buys a piece of land and starts manufacturing Bloch 131,151,152 aircraft.

In 1951, the airport was taken over US Air Force and prepared to become a NATO (North Atlantic Task Operation). A 2,500m long runway is constructed along with a tower, parking, buildings, and a train link to ensure easy transport of goods. This part of the story ends in 1966 when French President Charles de Gaulle withdraws from NATO and the airport is handed back to the French government and the airport managed by the local Chamber of Commerce beginning 1974.

In 1994 a freight activity is started, in 1995 the runway is extended to 3,500m and is made available to cargo aircraft and is also used by Concorde for training flights. The facilities are then upgraded in 2005. With the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, CHR becomes a hub for medical supplies and handles 37 cargo flights that have carried 140 million face masks.

Officials lay the foundation stone of a new tower and wide-body hangar – Photo : Chateauroux Airport via Instagram

A New Mission and Expansion

At the same time, CHR has become a storage airport, receiving 11 Airbus A380 belonging to British Airways (BA) to be parked awaiting better flying times. The task is arduous, as each aircraft requires 2.5 acres of space and has to be moved to avoid damage to the tires. MRO (Maintenance Revision Overhaul) operations also have to be carried out at CHR. At the beginning of April, 46 aircraft were stored while 20 more awaited their spot at the airport.

Chateauroux Airport disposes of all the required facilities and like for BA, it is home to a large number of airlines, including Hong Kong Airlines (HX), Garuda Indonesian (GA), Air France (AF), JetSmart (JA), Aeroflot (SU), and the French Air Force. Besides aircraft storage, CHR is also widely used for training flights. On January 5, 2021, the foundation stone for a new tower and a wide-body hangar was laid.

Featured image: British Airways Airbus A380 stored at Châteauroux Airport : Photo : Châteauroux Airport via Instagram