Zeljava - abandoned airbase

Once one of the largest underground military airbases in Europe, in the 21st century is part of a large GWT2P regional destination.

Licka Pljesivica Massif

Hidden in the magnificent Lička Plješivica Mountain, Željava airbase is positioned in the center of the GreenWay Tour 2Parks destination, near the border between two friendly local communities and countries.

Majestic Mount Licka PljesivicaMount Licka Pljesivica

The underground part, runway 4 and parts of the runways 1 and 3 belong to the Republic of Croatia, administratively the Municipality of Plitvice Lakes, while the runways 2 and 5 belong to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, administratively the Town of Bihac.

Together with two national parks, both local communities are now the main partners and signatories to the GWT2P Cross-Border Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.

The abandoned military airbase is preparing to become a significant contributor to sustainable development and inclusive green growth of our region, for the benefit of all people, and here is a mix of informative and interesting facts about the base, activities you can already enjoy in the immediate vicinity, and our visionary plans.

Licka Pljesivica is natur's gem highly worthy of preservation and your attention!
Learn more impressive facts under Explore Local.

Željava - Things to Do

At this point in time, the airbase area is not open to the public for security reasons.

During this period, while the underground airbase is closed for your protection, we would like to draw your attention to things to do & tours to take in nearby villages Željava and Ličko Petrovo Selo in Croatia, and Izačić and Vikići in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

  • Association "Tara" from Licko Selo is led by Mrs. Sonja Leka who is highly committed to the preservation of traditional heritage, particularly handicrafts. From souvenirs to workshops, you can arrange it all with Mrs. Sonja, just like people from the Japanese television whose attention was drawn to one of the most famous traditional products offered by Tara - male woolen underpants.
  • "Memorial Room Izačić"  is led by a former employee of the military airbase Mr. Osman Sulic. Mr. Sulic is very helpful and can provide plenty of interesting information about the base.  As a guide he can safely take you on a walking or cycling tour using established public paths near the airbase.
  • In village Željava, right next to the abandoned military base, lives the Crnković family. Mr. Slavko Crnković is an excellent guide for the area around the airbase and you can arrange a tour in advance. Also, horse drawn carriage rides and wildlife viewing are in preparation.

You'll find all contacts under Experiences on our interactive map, and in our calendar of Events and Activities, where we invite you each month to discover the area around the base - Zeljava Hike & Bike.

Samir Aličić - horse carriage rides
In addition to the memorial room you can also experience:

  • a miniature traditional house;
  • horse carriage rides;
  • local gastronomic specialties and products;
  • and folk dances by KUD "Vikići".
In early spring and autumn you can experience:
  • a traditional regional horse pulling competition - famous "Štraparijada in Izačić" organized by Mr. Samir Alicic. Mr. Aličić is the same one that will take you on a horse carriage ride through the countryside. Štraparijada, usually organized in the second half of September, is also announced in our Calendar of events and activities.

Lokal people are very friendly and interconnected, and everyone will be happy to refer you to more interesting things in the area.

A Bit About the Past

The construction of the airfield Zeljava started in 1968 and lasted for 12 years. The chief engineer was Mr. Dragoslav Sobotka. The task of designing a military base envisaged an accommodation for two to three reinforced squadrons of fighter aircraft (then modern MiG-21) with supporting areas, air traffic control, meteorological station and additional facilities that would be used to accommodate hunting aviation regiment comprising of three to five squadrons.
The estimated value of the property was 8 billion dollars and was the most expensive military investment in former Yugoslavia.

The position of the military base
The position of the underground military base and its geostrategic position was chosen after detailed research. As with all military facilities the main requirement was to be placed on the geostrategic base: deep enough in the national territory and at the same time equally distant from all important facilities and strategic objectives.

The morphological image and the position of this impressive massif with numerous valleys and ridges fully met those requirements. The terrain was an ideal natural barrier against surprise attacks and position of the mountain provided an opportunity for a tactical surprise because the planes could take off safely and unnoticed from the radar shadow of the mountain. 

Mount Lička Plješivica - magnificent bastion

The exterior of the building - the airport, consisted of five runways (two ascending-descending and three ascending runways). The barracks were located in the village of Licko Petrovo Selo, that also served as the logistic base.

The 117th-Hunting Aviation Regiment was located at the Zeljava airbase. Almost all members of the base lived with their families in the Town of Bihac where the whole quarter of the town called Harmani was made for the airport.

Only the best pilots came to Zeljava because the airbase was one of the two airports in the former Yugoslavia with the 24-hour operation.

The impressive characteristics of the military base:

  • three galleries to accommodate 58 aircraft linked together in the shape of the letter M;
  • vaulted galleries: length 350, 400 and 500 meters, width at the base about 20 meters and height 8 meters;
  • at crossings gallery height of 12 meters;
  • the total length of the underground tunnels: 3500 meters;
  • gallery profile and enters built to match the dimensions of the MiG 21;
  • its own source of electricity and water, electric, water and sewer networks;
  • equipment base allowed the autonomous use of the base up to 30 days;
  • two backup diesel-electric power plant of 1,000 kVA and 625 kVA;
  • 13 air chambers with a specially protected ventilation shafts (also spare exits;
  • interior rooms separated with 56 heavy armored doors;
  • heavy reinforced concrete doors at the entrance of the galleries were 1m thick, 9 meters wide, 21 meters high and more than 100 tons heavy, were placed in separate niches of the gallery and had built-in anti-shock valves;
  • the base was supplied with kerosene through its own, more than ten kilometers long and completely combat secured pipeline from military warehouses on the hill Pokoj near Bihac;
  • with space for decontamination, resistant to potential direct 20 kilotons nuclear attack. 
Zeljava - once upon a time!Zeljava underground tunnel - once upon a time!

Monument to Human Ingenuity... or Not!

One of the largest and the most modern military airbases in Europe was built with the money of all nations of the former Yugoslavia and on a premise to defend all nations of the former federated country.

Unfortunately, as in any war which is in itself a notorious example of human stupidity, during the preplanned wars in the former Yugoslavia the base and people working in it turned against the people they purported to protect. Combat air crafts were ascending from the Zeljava airbase on the warpath against the people who built it, attacking citizens in both countries.

The town of Bihac and it's citizens were ruthlessly attacked from the mountain peak Gola Pljesivica, and in an agonizing and long isolation facing the great danger of experiencing a tragedy like the one in Srebrenica.

On 16 May, 1992, when it became clear that the paramilitary forces occupying the base will not be able to continue unhindered with the military operations, they began wide scale destruction of the base with 50 tons of explosives.
The airport was placed fully out of service after the mining of facilities and runways, but still situated in occupied territory until the liberation in the operation "Storm" in 1995.

There is nothing more important to our future than a lasting peace, not only in this region but around the world. Only under such conditions we have the opportunity to take the much-needed steps to shift our world onto a sustainable and resilient path - to start working for the people, our planet and prosperity for all!!

Important Safety Precautions

It is important to remember that the area of the airbase was part of intense military operations. A great ecological damage was done with the destruction of the base. There is a risk of polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals and radioactive americium-241 from hundreds of ionization smoke detectors. 

Some parts of the tunnel are in a very bad condition and dangerous for a stay.


  • do not enter the premises of the former the military base;
  • worry about their safety because you, as always and everywhere, are solely responsible for it;
  • stick to established trails, don't take shortcuts through the deserted area or private properties;
  • ask and follow the advice given by your hosts, or local guides;
  • take a thoughtful and reasonable approach to personal curiosity.

Zeljava in the 21st Century

After 20 years, the abandoned military complex has a chance to get a completely new role.

The Municipality of Plitvice Lakes accepted the GWT2P initiative and has entered the "race" to win a national tender to turn the base intosustainable engine for regional green growth and a major source of local and regional employment.GWT2P - for people and the environment

GWT2P Vision

Considering that Željava is now a part of the large regional tourist destination, with 2Parks as the leading attractions, the Airbase can assume its new role of one of a powerful engines of local and regional development, even in its present dehumanized condition.

With its potential, and within the remit of ethical and socially responsible local governments, it will give a strong impetus to local inclusive green growth that benefits all members of local communities, including the most vulnerable, creates opportunity for all segments of society, meets the particular needs and priorities of local people, fairly distributes the benefits, and fosters responsible use of natural resources.

With open and transparent public administrations, Željava will easily take an active role in promoting and fostering socially responsible entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships, and protecting authentic and indigenous products and values.

Local entrepreneurs and artisans , as well as entrepreneurs who have emigrated from these areas and want to contribute to the responsible growth of their homeland are considered as highly desirable.

Future Zeljava as a dynamic business, cultural and commercial zone for numerous domestic and foreign guests, dedicated to empower local and regional prosperity, not just the privileged few.

GWT2P Project is in the initial group of candidates for Zeljava airbase in the „Project 100“ of the State Office for State Property Management of the Republic of Croatia. Public tender follows.

Built in the 20th century for the purpose of war, now in 21st century Zeljava has a chance to get a meaningful role in peace - for the benefit of all people in surrounding local communities!


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