Paris Charles de Gaulle is France's largest international airport

Paris Charles de Gaulle

France’s Largest International Airport

Active for four-plus decades, Charles de Gaulle (AKA ‘Roissy’) is France’s largest international airport. Named after the former French President (who also had a French Navy aircraft carrier named after him), Charles de Gaulle is national flagship carrier Air France’s key hub. Second only to London Heathrow on the European airports scene, it is also the world’s eighth-busiest airport.

Owned and operated by Aéroports de Paris, Charles de Gaulle is one of three major airports that serve the French capital city, alongside Orly International and Le Bourget. Its present infrastructure, spread across a vast area, includes three passenger terminals and four runways.

Charles de Gaulle Airport Layout

Charles de Gaulle Airport Development

In the late 1950s, Paris already had Orly and Le Bourget but it was realised another airport was needed and the search for a suitable location began. By 1964, that location had been found: a site positioned 15.5 miles (25 kilometres) north-east of Paris. Construction work on the then-named ‘Aéroport de Paris Nord’ started in 1966. Renamed ‘Charles de Gaulle’, the new Parisian airport was officially opened on 8 March 1974 by French Prime Minister Pierre Messmer. Six days later, Terminal 1 – the only terminal there at that time – welcomed its first passengers.

The airport’s initial passenger capacity was set at 10 million per annum. Forty-odd years later, annual capacity’s now almost eight times that figure and, in total, well over one billion passengers have passed through Charles de Gaulle since its inauguration.

Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminals

Charles de Gaulle has three main terminals, although one of these is subdivided up into smaller terminals to unofficially make nine overall. Terminal 1 was there from the outset. Comprising a main central building and seven surrounding structures, it resembles an octopus when viewed from above. Each of Terminal 1’s 10 storeys was originally given a particular purpose: for example, its second floor consisted of retail and food/drink outlets, while storeys three and four predominantly handled check-ins and duty free/border control, respectively. A Terminal 1 upgrade programme started in 2004 and was finished by 2009.

Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminals

CDG Terminal 2

Terminal 2 was conceived solely for Air France’s use but is now much more widely tasked. It’s made up of seven sub-terminals which are lettered ‘A’ through to ‘G’. Both 2A and 2B went into operation in 1982. 2C followed in 1989 and 2D, in 1993, was next. Terminal 2F, though – 1999’s addition - opened four years ahead of Terminal 2E. The latter subsequently suffered a partial collapse on 23 May 2004, causing four fatalities. Construction issues were later blamed for this incident, while a reconfigured Terminal 2E was opened on 30 March 2008. Terminals 2A-to-2F all face each other in pairs (so A is opposite B, C opposite D, etc), making the newest sub-terminal this layout’s odd member. Terminal G, sited more than a mile away from the others, opened on 9 September 2008.

CDG Terminal 3

Terminal T3 handles Charles de Gaulle’s budget carriers/low-cost airlines and charter fights. Opened in 1990, it was upgraded in early 1999. Unlike the airport’s other two terminals, T3 doesn’t have boarding gates. Instead, passengers are transported to and from aircraft by bus. Next to Terminal 3 is Roissypôle – a cluster of hotels, shops and office space.

A ‘bonus’ terminal joined T1, T2 and T3 on 28 June 2012. Named S4 (Satellite 4), it’s solely for long-haul flights of which up to 16 can be handled at once.

Transit between Charles de Gaulle’s terminals takes place via the airport’s CDGVAL light-rail shuttle service. This was activated on 4 April 2007 and it features five stops.

Air France At CDG

Concorde Crash

Alongside London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle co-launched Concorde’s commercial career on 21 January 1976. More than 25 years later, it hosted an event that helped seal the Anglo-French supersonic airliner’s fate. On 25 July 2000, Air France Flight 4590 took from the airport. Moments later, it crashed, killing all 109 people on board. A multi-month grounding followed. Then, commercial flights began again for barely two more years before Concorde’s permanent retirement.

Charles de Gaulle Airport Today

Situated 392 feet (119 metres) above sea level, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is today 3,237 hectares (8,000 acres) in size. Able to accommodate more than 300 airliners in total, it serves over 300 cities and around 85,000 employees work there in some capacity.

Charles de Gaulle has a twin parallel runway arrangement in place which serves to limit aircraft noise levels around the surrounding residential areas. 13,829 feet (4,215 metres) long, Runway 08L/26R lies right alongside Runway 08R/26L (8,858 feet – 2,700 metres long). On the other side of the airport, Runway 09L/27R (also 8,858 feet – 2,7000 metres in length) sit next to Runway 09R/27L (13,780 feet – 4,200 metres). All Charles de Gaulle runways are made of asphalt except 08R/26L, which is made of concrete.

Around 180 airlines operate flights from the airport. Passenger traffic for 2015 was more than 65 million while, that same year, the airport handled nearly half a million aircraft movements. More passengers fly from Charles de Gaulle to New York JFK (some 1.3 million in 2014) than to any other airport. London Heathrow is the second most popular passenger flight choice, trailed by Barcelona el Prat.

Charles de Gaulle’s annual passenger capacity is now set at 80 million per annum. On this basis, the airport won’t need any more major infrastructure upgrades until the mid-2020s at earliest.

Charles de Gaulle Airport Today

How To Get To Paris Charles de Gaulle

Excellent transport links make Paris Charles de Gaulle a very reachable airport. Since 1994, it’s had its own stop on the TGV high-speed rail service, linking it to the rest of France and wider Europe. Supplementing this are a pair of RER (Regional Rail) stations. RER passengers can get to the airport from central Paris in around 45 minutes. Car journeys to Charles de Gaulle involve the A1 – France’s busiest autoroute: signs to it are in place from Porte de la Chapelle onwards. At the airport itself, there are ten car parks plus numerous drop-off points. Alternatively, more than 40 bus routes serve the site and taxis to/from Paris are another option but, at 50 or more Euros each way, they’re not cheap.

Key Facts:

First opened: March 1974
Size: 3,237 hectares/8,000 acres
Runways: Four - 08L/26R (13,829 ft/ 4,215 m), 08R/26L (8,858 ft/ 2,700 m), 09L/27R (8,858 ft/ 2,7000 m) and 09R/27L (13,780 ft/ 4,200 m)
Terminals: Three
Annual passengers: 65,766,986 (2015)
Annual aircraft movements: 497,763 (2015)

Charles de Gaulle Airport nighttime image - Philippe Stroppa / Studio Pons pour Aéroports de Paris
Charles de Gaulle Airport aerial images - Jean-Marc Jouanneaux pour Aéroports de Paris
Charles de Gaulle Airport interior image - Gwen Le Bras pour Aéroports de Paris
Air France Boeing 777 image copyright Greenboost – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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