After varied aeronautical experiences in the Bizkaia province, in October 1927 the first steps were taken to build an airport in Bilbao. The plan was put forward by the Development Trade Union. A Provincial Board was duly constituted to conduct studies on possible sites for the airport. It was not until 1936 that the Department of Aeronautics granted permission to build an airport in Sondika. However, the deficiencies of the location led to the airport’s not being considered of general interest.

Work began during the civil war although throughout this period, and until June 1937, it was to be used as a military air base. In 1938 the second airport development phase commenced. The council renewed talks with the government with a view to modifying the original 1936 project and received authorisation to draft a new project which was approved by the Department of Infrastructure.

Open to traffic

In 1940 it was decided, after agreement with local bodies affected by the plan, to build an airport for civil use on the Sondika site. Work went slowly until 19 September 1948, when the airport was opened to daytime flights with the establishment of a Madrid route by Aviación y Comercio, S.A.. Two years later the terminal building was opened and received the name Carlos Haya. On 1 September 1965, a ministerial order was published officially naming airports; consequently, it was named Bilbao Airport, which has remained its official name for all purposes ever since. At that time the airport had an asphalted runway, the 11-29 (measuring 1,440 by 45 metres), a second with an unmade up surface (1,500 by 150 metres), a taxiway, a passenger terminal building, a control tower, a radio beacon, and a radio beacon, as well as police, mail, meteorological, health, fuel and telephone services. In 1955 a taxiway was built to connect the runway with the parking area and the terminal building, in addition to an apron measuring 124 by 60 metres, a hangar for the Real Aeroclub de Vizcaya and the permanent Campsa facilities.

Between 1964 and 1965, an instrument landing system (ILS) was installed and a weather radar to detect storms; the runway was extended to 2000 metres and the apron to 12,000 square metres. In 1975 the runway was paved; its orientation changed to 10-28 as a result of the change in magnetic declination. In 1977 the parking area was extended, a linking strip was built and an ILS system was installed. The 12-30 runway - 2,600 metres in length - was opened the same year and the following year the airport was awarded first category status.

In the 1980’s, the ILS system was implemented on runway 10-30; the transmission station, passenger terminal building and parking area were extended; the fire prevention building and the cargo terminal building were also built.

In 1996 a new taxiway with two rapid exits was built and a new apron. In May 1999 the new control tower became operational, enabling a better overall view of the airfield while facilitating airport operations. On 19 November 2000 the new terminal area was opened in the northern zone. It is composed of the new terminal building, with a surface area of 32,000 square metres, the car park, with an area of 95,000 square metres and 3,000 parking spaces, in addition to the northern apron, which supports the new terminal area.