Airports with cross-border runways around the world

 Thursday, November 11, 2021 



Travellers who are planning to embark on international travel during the COVID era are facing an ever-changing set of rules and restrictions. However, the world is home to some airports are managed by more than one country and give a whole new meaning to “international” airport.

Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (BSL)

Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is considered as a bi-national facility. Located right next to the venue where borders of France, Switzerland and Germany meet the Euroairport serves three different cities: Basel (Switzerland), Mulhouse (France) and Freiburg (Germany). Basel is the largest of the three and closest to the airport.

The airport lies entirely on French territory Switzerland and enjoys some extraterritorial rights due to a special bilateral treaty which makes Euroairport a Swiss airport as well as a French one, to some extent. Since the 1980s, German authorities have also been represented at some of the airport’s governance organs.

In practical terms this also means there is French and a Swiss sector with the divide cutting right through the middle of the terminal. Each sector has its own border and customs checkpoints, staffed by officers from the respective countries. However, the airport remains the same in French sovereign territory and French police forces are in charge of overall security.

The entry of Switzerland into the European Union’s Schengen visa area eased the divide and made it possible to walk unimpeded between the two sectors land-side since 2008. Most services in the terminal are available in either their French or Swiss versions depending on the part of facility.

Shops and cafés in the French sector trade in euros while their counterparts across the hall take Swiss francs. Switzerland-bound travellers can reach Basel through a special road which runs through French territory but is free of border checkpoints.

These arrangements were recently trialed when France and Switzerland implemented different COVID-related entry requirements. At some points during the pandemic, travelers coming into France were expected to undergo a test, whereas Switzerland did not require tests but mandated quarantines. The matter was solved by physically segregating Swiss-bound travelers for the duration of these measures.

Geneva Airport

Geneva Airport, also known by its old name Cointrin, is entirely on Swiss soil, but the edge of its runway subtly touches the French border. The sharp right-angle turns that the border takes along the airport’s perimeter are also not random. Back in the 1950s Swiss authorities wanted to extend the airport’s runway as the only feasible option was to do so over French territory.

The matter was sorted by the signing of an international treaty by which France and Switzerland exchanged plots of territory of equivalent size. The Swiss could extend the runway and in exchange granted France the use of a section of the airport.

The “French sector,” which is linked to the French “mainland” through a dedicated road, allow French travelers to board flights to Paris and a handful of other French destinations without having to go through Swiss customs. Although the entirety of the facility remains Swiss sovereign territory, businesses in the French sector trade in euros and apply French sales tax.

Since Switzerland is part of the Schengen area, but not of the EU customs union, French customs operate at the terminal as well. A joint committee with high-level representatives from both sides of the border meets at least once per year to deal with any matters pertaining to these international arrangements.

Cross Border Xpress (CBX)

The Cross Border Xpress (CBX) terminal has linked the Otay Mesa district of San Diego, California, to the main terminal at Tijuana International Airport through an elevated pedestrian overpass since 2016.

The CBX makes it possible for travelers to check in for their flights on US soil then walk over the border to the boarding gate in Mexico. Ticket prices start at $16 one-way to cross the bridge, which in 2019 registered nearly 3 million transits.

Gibraltar International Airport (GIB)

Gibraltar’s airport was built right before World War II at the edge of Gibraltar’s isthmus, just meters away from the Spanish border and on land that Spain claims was not included in the Treaty of Utrecht, by which the Rock was ceded to Britain.

In 2006, during a temporary softening in relations centered around the Cordoba Agreement, the UK and Spain agreed that Gibraltar’s new airport terminal would be accessible through the Spanish side and there was even some talk about the possibility of a joint venture company to operate some services at the terminal.

None of these initiatives were executed and only the British part of the terminal was completed becoming operational in 2012 so travelers coming from Spain have to go over the main border crossing adjacent to the terminal to access the airport.

The dispute also affects Gibraltar’s airspace, whose inclusion in the proposed European Single Sky initiative remains blocked by Spain. Direct flights between Gibraltar and Spanish airports are possible, though, subject to agreement between the UK and Spain. Spain’s flag carrier, Iberia, operated a route from Gibraltar to Madrid for a couple of years, but it was discontinued in 2008.

Meanwhile, the northern border of the United States is also straddled by several airport facilities. When the US and Britain finally settled on the 49th parallel for the border between the US and Canada in 1846, they could not fathom the future needs of the aviation industry.

The world’s longest border running uninterrupted in a straight line cuts through the grounds of six different airfields as it makes its way from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. There are airports that serve as ports of entry that subject to the formalities of cross-border travel.

Avey Field, Washington

With only four permanent residents (according to 2020 US Census data) the airport has not prevented the small outpost of Laurier, Washington, from boasting its very own “international” airport. The fact that the tip of its gravel runway extends 500 feet into Canadian territory pretty much ensures that a good portion of the 800 movements registered at Avey Field is an international flight. Both US and Canada customs facilities are located adjacent to the runway.

Del Bonita/Whetstone International Airport, Montana

This is one of a string of airports whose runways sit on the border line. Owned and operated by the state of Montana, Del Bonita/Whetstone International Airport is also accessible from the Canadian side as well. There is a customs point at the western edge of the airfield.

Coronach/Scobey Border Station Airport, Montana

The Coronach/Scobey Border Station airport has another runway running exactly along the border line. However, must not be mistaken with the nearby Scobey 9S2 airport, which is a few miles further south and boasts a paved runway. This airport is classified as an official port of entry by Canada, although it handled a grand total of 10 operations in the whole of 2019.

Coutts/Ross International Airport, Montana

Aircraft can access the non-paved runway at the Coutts/Ross airfield from both the US and Canada sides, since the border bisects it right through the middle. Traffic here is also minimal, with less than a dozen movements per year (as per 2019 data).

International Peace Garden Airport, North Dakota

Perfectly named after a nearby park which was established in 1932 to celebrate the friendship between Canada and the US, most of International Peace Garden Airport, including the runway and main facilities, is on US soil. However, part of the apron stretches onto the Canadian side of the border, making it possible for aircraft to also operate to and from Canada.

Piney-Pinecreek Border Airport, Minnesota

Piney-Pinecreek alludes to the airport’s joint use by the towns of Pinecreek, Minnesota, and Piney, Manitoba. Unlike its neighboring airports, this one has a paved runway which used to stop just short of the border. It was the need in the 1970s to extend the runway to accommodate larger craft that led the airport to creep northwards (the southern perimeter was already delimited by an existing road), becoming, in the process, a binational airport.

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