A 1924 Murray’s map of Delhi shows the thickly populated Shahjahanabad and a newly laid grid of roads and lanes of New Delhi. The new capital’s area ended with a road (today’s Lodi Road) connecting Safdarjung Tomb with Humayun’s Tomb in Nizamuddin area, at the extreme southern edge of Lutyen’s Delhi.
New Delhi was still being built and a few years later — in May 1928 to be precise — the area south of Safdarjung Tomb was turned into Delhi’s first airfield and also became home to Delhi Flying Club.
Willingdon Airfield, as it was known when the first flight operated from here, has seen several changes over eight decades. It changed to Willingdon Airport and was subsequently renamed as Safdarjung Airport, after the Safdarjung’s Tomb, after Independence. It continued to be the only airport for Delhi till 1962 when operations shifted to the Palam Airport.
The Delhi Flying Club initiated the first air mail service of the country. “There used to be a postal sorting office. Letters posted up to 5 pm were delivered at another city the next day. There were no couriers in those days, so Safdarjung airport had the most efficient sorting office in India,” recalls Cavalier Surendra Kumar, 70, who visited the airport in 1952.
During the Commonwealth Games 2010, it was turned into a temporary parking area. The almost 200-acre open area today is used in rare cases for VIP usage but remains as the green lung for the choked city.