The first direct commercial flight in 12 years departed Greece for Macedonia on Nov. 1, ending Europe’s last aviation blockade.
Air travel between the two countries was suspended in 2006 following a move by the former right-wing government of Macedonia to rename the airport in its capital city, Skopje, after Alexander the Great. Greece saw that move as an appropriation of its history, and further confirmation that Macedonia intended to claim the Greek province of Macedonia as its own—a longstanding fear for Athens.
The conflict was finally resolved last June, when the two countries struck an agreement that would involve Macedonia renaming itself as the Northern Republic of Macedonia as a precondition to peace. That change put an end to Greek fears over irredentist moves from its Northern neighbor.
The airport in Skopje was renamed in February as the Skopje International Airport as a goodwill gesture toward Greece.
Macedonian deputy prime minister Bujar Osmani, who was in Athens for talks, was on board the inaugural Olympic Air flight to Skopje. He wrote on Twitter that “re-establishment of the air corridor” would bring the two Balkan neighbors “far, far closer to each other.”
Greece’s largest carrier, Aegean Airlines, will operate the roughly one-hour direct route twice weekly between the two countries’ capital cities. During the 12-year standoff, travelers had to either drive eight miles between the two countries or take connecting flights via Istanbul or Vienna.
The resetting of relations with Greece will pave the way for Macedonia to join the EU, which would open its carriers up to fly to more destinations under Europe’s numerous bilateral aviation treaties.