1946: The Handover of a Military Airfield in Fiji to Civilian Control

December 19, 1946

In the South Pacific, an airfield on the island of Viti Levu in what was then the British colony of Fiji was handed over by the U.S. military to civilian control under the auspices of the New Zealand government. (New Zealand had likewise been a British colony until gaining semi-independent status as a dominion of the British Empire in 1907; it would achieve full autonomy in 1947.) This airfield, located 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) from the city of Nadi on the western side of Viti Levu, had been extensively used by the United States in the fight against Japan during World War II. The official transfer of the airfield to New Zealand took place at midnight.

The origins of this facility can be traced to 1939, when New Zealand built British-financed airstrips there. Not long after the United States entered World War II on the side of the Allies in 1941, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) acquired control of the airfield and named it USAAF Nandi. The U.S. Navy eventually began using this airfield as well and designated it as Naval Air Facility Nandi.

This airfield, characterized by the Sydney-based Pacific Islands Monthly as “one of the largest bases in the Pacific,” proved to be a key strategic center for American air-based operations against Japan throughout the war. Not long before the post-war handover of the airfield to civilian authorities, a farewell party for U.S. military personnel was held in the area. USAAF Colonel Tompkins, the commanding officer, used that occasion to thank the local residents for the help and hospitality they had extended to American servicemen stationed there.

The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand formally began overseeing and operating Nadi Airport in 1947. After becoming an independent republic in 1970, Fiji started to take on various responsibilities for the airport. The Fijian government assumed complete control of the facility in 1979. Nadi International Airport is now operated by Airports Fiji Limited, and it has become that republic’s main airport and gateway.  

(The above photo of a Canadian Pacific Air Lines DC-8 was taken at Nadi International Airport in 1971.)

Photo Credit: RuthAS (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license at  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en)

Additional information on the 1946 transfer of present-day Nadi International Airport from U.S. military use to civilian control is available at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-316192657/view?partId=nla.obj-316200873#page/n16/mode/1up

For more information on airports in Fiji, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airports_in_Fiji

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