The Khatanga airport is a major airfield servicing medium-sized airliners. Interceptor aircraft were based here in the 1970s, and the airfield may have been home to deployments from Bratsk town. Today it serves as a hub for North Pole tourist expeditions via Sredny Ostrov. However, the Arctic regions still remain sensitive military zones and Khatanga is the first stop requiring entry permission from the Federal Security Service border guards.
The first airport in this area of Taimyr built in 1938 and it was located on the pebble spit of Cape Kosisty in the Khatanga Bay. It was about 300 km from Kosisty airport to Khatanga village.
The first half of the 20th century was the “golden age” of exploration of the Soviet Arctic and the time of numerous high-latitude polar Arctic expeditions along the Northern Sea Route.
The terminal building was built in 1954 as a temporary facility, and can hardly any longer be used by passengers. Like so many other towns all over the Russian Arctic, the post-Soviet period was marked by major out-migration and decaying infrastructure.
By that time, the village of Khatanga had already become a regional center and its population exceeded 1,000 people. It became clear that an airport was required in the village itself.
And only in 1945, in Khatanga itself, on the site of the modern airport, an unpaved runway appeared.
In the mid-1950s, the stone building of the aviation technical base, the wooden airport building, and a number of other technical facilities of the airport were built.
The wooden airport building was built as temporary, but it remained for decades, following the Soviet favorite principle — “there is nothing more permanent than temporary”.
Khatanga Airport has become the largest aviation transport hub in the Arctic.
The first airport on Cape Kosisty became the reserve airport for Khatanga. The very same Khatanga became a spare airport for the difficult Norilsk airport “Alykel”, which due to weather conditions is closed up to 200 days per year.
From Khatanga it was possible to fly to many cities of the USSR. From here there were flights to Moscow, Leningrad, Krasnoyarsk, Tiksi, Norilsk, Pevek, Amderma, Anadyr, Syktyvkar, and many others.
Khatanga airport was a hub for numerous polar expeditions and flights across Taimyr.
In addition, air defense systems of the USSR were based in Khatanga for many years and the airport was used for military purposes. In various sources, I found mention of the use of the airport for Tu-128 and Su-9 aircraft.
In 2009, the airport runway underwent modernization and after the renovation of the runway, it became completely reinforced concrete with dimensions of 2725m by 48m.
The airport was able to receive, around the clock and in any weather, almost any type of aircraft with a mass of up to 170 tons, including even Il-86, Il-76, Tu-154, and other lighter aircrafts such as Yak-42, Sukhoi Superjet 100.
At some point, they even began to consider the use of Khatanga as the main alternate airport for transpolar passenger flights from America and Asia to Europe along the shortest route.
But it didn’t work out. In Khatanga, apart from the modernization of the runway, they did nothing more. The airport did not become the most important Arctic hub for international air transportation and was actually excluded from the spare for the Norilsk airport.
And all because the airport has not passed certification for foreign aircraft, which are now widely used even by Russian airlines on domestic routes.
I talked with some people close to aviation and they said that the reason for the lack of certification for “foreign aircrafts” is the special low arrangement of engines on airplanes.
If such vessels land and take off from Khatanga, there will be a risk of engine damage from snow, stones, and crumbs on the runway.
This issue is solved by special aerodrome harvesting machines, but there is no such machines here and those machines are not expected to appear in the foreseeable future.
The half-century wooden airport building looks creepy and wretched not only from the outside. It has already completely rotted and collapsed inside.
Back in the distant “noughties”, it was recognized as an emergency along the way, banning its operation, and the owners of the airport do not have the funds to build a new building.
The Khatanga airport is today owned by Krasavia, a company owned by the regional Krasnoyarsk government. The economy of the company is strained and a bankruptcy process was started, and stalled, in fall 2016. Krasavia also owns the airport in Dikson, as well as four other regional airports.
Now, only the An-26 with tail numbers RA-26022, RA-26045, RA-26506 is reminiscent of the glorious past of the largest airport in the Arctic, in temporary and permanent storage next to the rickety fences of the airport.
A full reconstruction of the airport will amount to about 1.5 billion rubles,