Albania: Airport opens at former site of war refugee camp

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TIRANA, Albania — Albania opened a low-cost airport Sunday at the site of a former refugee camp to boost tourism in one of its poorest northeastern areas.

The first domestic flight landed at Kukes International Airport, also known as Zayed-Northern Wings, after travelling from Tirana. The site of the airport 90 miles northeast of Albania’s capital sheltered hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees from the Kosovo War in 1999.

Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of the United Arab Emirates had a runway built there for airplanes bringing aid to the refugees, so the international airport was named in his honour . A brutal 1998-1999 war between separatist ethnic Albanian rebels and Serb forces in Kosovo ended after a 78-day NATO air campaign that drove Serb troops out. Photos from that period cover the walls inside the airport.

The 100-hectares (200-acre) airport has a single runway and three parking spots for planes. Authorities said it is expected to start handling international flights in about two months, and they forecast 300,000 passengers a year eventually circulating through the facility. .

Domestic airline Air Albania has planned a flight to Britain, where many residents of northeast Albania have immigrated.

The Kukes airport is Albania's second after Tirana International Airport, where an air traffic controllers' strike grounded flights for two days this month.

The Albanian Infrastructure Ministry has said that air traffic in Albania fell 57% during the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Llazar Semini, The Associated Press