Istanbul New Airport set for ‘soft opening’ on Monday

Istanbul’s new state-of-the-art hub Istanbul New Airport was unveiled to the media yesterday (25 October) and is set for a ‘soft opening’ on Monday (29 October) – the Republic Day of Turkey 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to officially declare the new airport ready for flights, which will replace Istanbul Ataturk as the main hub in the city straddling Europe and Asia.

The soft opening will see Turkish Airlines operating five flights a day, three routes to domestic destinations in Turkey and two international destinations to Azerbaijan and Northern Cyprus.

At the media day yesterday, journalists were given the opportunity to wander one of the domestic piers, while the rest of the airport is looking quite unfinished, but operator IGA Airport Operations is still confident the main opening, referred to as the ‘big bang’ will take place on 31 December.

Once full opened or phase one, the airport will be able to handle 90 million passengers per annum (mppa) and 4.5 million tonnes of cargo, but it will then be developed in phases with the aim of having capacity for 200mppa.

IGA Airport Operations chief executive officer, Kadri Samsunlu (pictured above) said once opened in phase one the total investment will be 7.4 billion, but this will rise to 10.5 billion once all phases are completed and IGA has the concession to run the airport for 25 years when it will be handed back to the government. As part of the deal it will pay the Turkish government 1 billion a year.

He said a new name for the airport is likely to be given to Istanbul New Airport on Monday, but had no details and he said the airport would use the airport code ISL during the two months, before taking the IST airport code which Istanbul Ataturk Airport uses once completely opened on 31 December.

Samsunlu said the soft opening gives Turkish Airlines the chance to practice operations and get organised and all flights and airlines and ground service opertators will move across in a 36-hour period from 29-30 December in preparation for the main opening on 31 December, when Ataturk will be closed for passenger flights. Freighters will continue to operate at Ataturk for the first half of 2019.

He said the new airport will drive passenger traffic in Istanbul and Turkey and the aim is for the gateway to surpass the likes of Dubai International Airport as he believe it is the perfect transit hub as is ideally placed on the edge of Europe and Asia.

Samsunlu believes it will not take long for INA to break the 100 million passengers a year mark, predicting within five years and the target is 200 million within 10 years of opening as Turkey is aiming to be ninth biggest country for passengers in 15 years.

In phases one, INA will be spread over 41.5 million square metres, compared to capacity-stretched Ataturk which covers only 12 million square metres and handles 64mppa, but can take no more.

INA’s airport area compares to 12 million square metres at Heathrow Airport (78mppa), 21 million square metres at Frankfurt Airport (21mppa), 20 million square metres Amsterdam Airport Schipol (68mppa) and 19 million square metres at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airpor (104mppa).

Samsunlu said in phase one INA will have one terminal, and will operate two runways. The plan is to add a third runway in 16 months, taking the passenger capacity to 135mppa – double the capacity of Ataturk.

He said other development phases will eventually see another terminal added, with six runways possible and capacity for 150-200mppa sometime from 2026-28.

There will be 143 passenger boarding bridges in phase one, with 114 small-body aircradt able to operate at the terminal at any one time, while there will be 15 dedicated Airbus A380 units.

Initially, travelling to the new airport could be a challenge as a metro into Istanbul city centre will not operate from INA until sometime in 2020, although Samsunlu said a huge bus network will be run, shuttling 100,000 passenger as day to the airport.

In Istanbul, most low-cost carriers (LCCs) operate from Istanbul Sabiha-Gocken Airport, on the Asian side of Istanbul, and Samsunlu  said there will be no special provisions for LCCs and all airlines will operate the same. No Star Alliance terminal will be built either.

Slots wont be a problem and the airport is hoping to welcome one of the US big three of United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, who stopped flying to Istanbul a few years ago, athough there has yet been anything announced by any of the three about a return to Istanbul.

Construction has been a challenge with protests by workers about conditions and 30 people have died on site during the building of the airport, Samsunlu said. He said 34,000 workers have been working at the site a day so challenges with the workforce were inevitable although it has done its best to resolve issues arising peacefully.