How the French island of Corsica stays connected by air

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The island of Corsica is located in the southeast of mainland France in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the fourth largest Mediterranean island, but despite this it’s still quite a small place. It is 183 km long at its longest point and 83 km wide at its widest point.

And yet, for an island smaller than many of France’s individual prefectures, it has a surprising number of airports. In terms of commercial airports, there are four. If you include military airports and general aviation airports, there are six in total.

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For comparison, Corsica has a population of just 339,000 and the island has a landmass of 3,368 square miles (8,722 km²) but has four commercial airports. Malta has a larger population of 504,000 but only one airport. Sardinia, with a land mass of 24,000 square kilometers and a population of 1.64 million, has three commercial airports.

Of course, Corsica is rich in aviation facilities – let’s take a look at its four commercial airports and why such a small island has so many airline landing pads.

Ajaccio Napoleon Bonaparte Airport

Ajaccio is located in western Corsica and is the main airport for the island’s largest settlement, Ajaccio. It is home to Air Corsica, which flies to various destinations in France and has seasonal flights to London, Rome and Venice.

Air France, Volotea, easyJet and Chalair are other frequent operators at the airport, connecting it to multiple destinations, although they are still primarily located in France. Other operators offer seasonal flights to individual destinations, such as Brussels Airlines to Brussels, Smartwings to Prague and SWISS to Geneva.

Before the pandemic, 1.67 million passengers were handled per year. Last year it climbed back to 1.41 million passengers from COVID-related lows.

Bastia Poretta Airport

In the northeast of the island is Bastia Airport in Lucciana, about 17 km south of the city of Bastia. Bastia is the second largest municipality after Ajaccio. Although smaller than Ajaccio Airport, Bastia has a good range of operators connecting it to many European destinations.


Bastia is located in the northeast of the island. Photo: Bastia Airport

Air Corsica is again a major operator there, serving French cities year-round and adding more in the summer season, as well as a flight to Gothenburg in Sweden. Air France connects to Paris all year round and to a variety of destinations in the summer. Vueling flies to Barcelona all year round.

Other seasonal operators are British Airways for London, Lufthansa for Frankfurt and Munich, Iberia for Madrid, and Norwegian and SAS for Copenhagen and Stockholm. A total of 19 operators fly to the airport. Before the pandemic, it served 1.56 million passengers and in 2021, 1.2 million passed through its doors.

Calvi – Sainte Catherine Airport

Calvi Airport in the North West is the smallest of Corsica’s four airports. It is served by nine operators, including Air Corsica and Air France, as well as easyJet, Luxair, SWISS and Transavia.

Calvi Airport is a very small and basic airport facility. Photo: Calvi Airport

Before the pandemic, it served 336,000 passengers, reaching 289,000 in 2021. The airport has very limited facilities given its size with only a small cafe and a small supermarket. There is no pharmacy, no ATM or a place to exchange money.

Due to the island’s location on the coast, pilots wishing to land there require special training. Flights cannot land outside of daylight hours, and in windy conditions they are likely to be diverted to Bastia.

Figari-South Corsica Airport

Figari Airport is located in the very south of the island, just a few kilometers outside the small village of Figari. While Figari itself is not a popular tourist destination, the airport’s location makes it easy to reach larger and more popular resorts, including Porto-Vecchio, Sartene and Bonifacio.

Figari is the only airport in Corsica served by Ryanair. Photo: Getty Images

Air Corsica flies to Figari all year round; All other operators are seasonal only. These include Air France, British Airways, easyJet, Edelweiss and SWISS. Figari is the only Corsican airport served by low-cost airline Ryanair, which connects it seasonally with Beauvais, Charleroi and Rome.

In 2019 it recorded 749,000 passengers but broke that record in 2021 with a total of 790,000 passengers passing through the airport.

Why so many?

Corsica is a very mountainous island; In fact, some would simply describe the entire island as a large mountain in the sea. It’s the most mountainous island in the Mediterranean, and getting around the island can involve driving down some hair-raising mountain roads or taking the very slow, bone-shaking “U Trinighellu” (little train).

Many visitors just want to arrive and relax at their resort, so flying to an airport that’s close to their final destination is far more appealing and convenient than trying to transfer from Ajaccio. Because of this, the island is able to support all four commercial airports.

While this somewhat explains the continued permanence of these airports, it doesn’t fully cover the story of how they got there in the first place.

The US military opened 17 airfields in Corsica during World War II. Photo: USAAF via AFHRC

In the 1940s, Corsica was under the rule of the Vichy French, who were in league with Nazi Germany. They were expelled in 1943, making Corsica the first French department to be liberated. For this reason, the US military built an incredible 17 airfields on the island, earning it the nickname “USS Corsica”. Its strategic location made it an ideal base from which to launch tactical bombing raids in German-occupied Italy, and some of these airports survive to this day.

Bastia, Calvi and Ajaccio (then Campo dell ‘Oro) have wartime roots, although before the outbreak of war Ajaccio was a general aviation airstrip. Only Figari has been built since the war and opened in 1975. The island is also home to Ghisonaccia Alzitone Airport, a general aviation aerodrome, and Solenzara Air Base, a military facility, both created during World War II.


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