Slovenian aviation has lost one of its legends: it is with great sadness that we received the news that the first director of Aerodrom Ljubljana, Mr Jurij Štirn, has died at the age of 96. A great personality, a founder and a builder, flying was in his soul. Jurij Štirn devoted the main part of his life to flying, and left an indelible mark on the history of aviation in Slovenia, which he played an active part in building. He was a military and sport pilot, a flying instructor, and an innovator of aerial surveying in Yugoslavia.
He was born in 1925 to an aviating family: his uncle was a major in the air force. Aged 22 he enrolled in the officer flying school, and two years later completed the demanding training to become a fighter pilot. As a fighter pilot he was based in Zadar and Zemun, where he trained to fly the Ikarus S-49, and later in Belgrade. In 1953 he accepted the post of commander of the unit at Ljubljana Polje airport, which at that time was a civil and military airport, where he trained air force officers. He took up an active role at the Aviation Association of Slovenia, and two years later was employed by them as an aviation inspector for Slovenian flying clubs, and also taught night flying to flight school operators.
He worked with the Surveying and Mapping Institute to create aerial maps of Slovenia, piloting a DC-3 that the institute had obtained to map Slovenian terrain, and later became the director of Aerial Survey Slovenia.
By 1960 his ideas of a modern international airport in Slovenia were becoming increasingly pertinent, and Jurij Štirn became director of the existing airport at Ljubljana Polje. At the same time he played a vital role as director of construction of the new airport at Brnik in drawing up the plans and in overseeing the work. A modern regional airport with an instrument landing system (ILS) was built in record time, and opened on 24 December 1963. The original airport was significantly smaller than the one we see today. A passenger terminal and office building, a control tower and a three-kilometre runway were built.
As the first director of Aerodrom Ljubljana, as the company was known at the time, he watched the landing of the first DC-6B operated by Slovenian airline Adria Aviopromet (later Adria Airways), before scheduled services began under his leadership on 9 January 1964. Despite rather modest infrastructure by today’s standards, the first year of operation saw more than 78,000 passengers pass through the airport, where JAT operated services to Belgrade, Dubrovnik and London, while Adria Aviopromet flew to Belgrade and Algiers. Two years after the opening of the airport at Brnik, Aerodrom Ljubljana took over the operation of Ljubljana Polje, which entailed an expansion of activities and an increase in traffic at Brnik.
Jurij Štirn remained the director of Aerodrom Ljubljana until 1968. Even after he left his position at the helm of the airport, he always followed its later development with great interest, and was delighted to return there when the occasion warranted. Always a friendly and approachable colleague, modest and uncomplicated in his manner, he was without doubt a man of action, audacious ideas, incisive decisions and great achievements. This great builder of aviation in Slovenia has left us at a time when the global aviation sector is facing major changes and transformations, while Ljubljana Airport is once again undergoing an expansion and modernisation with the construction of the new passenger terminal. The loss of a truly exceptional personality such as Jurij Štirn carries with it a promise and a duty on the part those of us who will continue to build the new, inspiring future for aviation in this country.
Jurij Štirn, we are grateful for everything that you did to create the airport and to develop Slovenian aviation. May you live long in our memory.
Our condolences go to your family, and to all those who loved you.