Q&A: Istanbul New Airport CEO Kadri Samsunlu

Istanbul New Airport (INA) will open later this year and the new ($11 billion) Turkish gateway will be one of the world’s ‘megahubs’ when all phases of the development are completed.

Once finished, the new airport will have six runways spread over 7,594 hectares, and it will feature a 1.4 million square metre Cargo City with a capacity of 5.5 million tonnes of capacity.

The operator is İGA Airport Operation and CAAS spoke to the new recently appointed chief executive officer, Kadri Samsunlu about how the project is progressing.

Is INA on target to open in October this year?

The airport will be in operation on 29 October which is the commemoration of the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. We are on a good track and our schedule is working perfectly – currently 35,000 people are working for achieving this goal. We have just a bit more than five months and we are very excited to present this airport to our country on its 95th anniversary of Turkey.

How much of the development is complete?

89 per cent of the construction for Istanbul’s New Airport (INA) has been completed. We are very close to finalising the terminal building. More than 550 elevators, escalators and moving walkways are placed. Installation of 143 passenger boarding bridges and 13 check-in islands are about to be completed. We’ve been completing structural works for the Air Traffic Control Tower.

Besides, we have finished the asphalt layers of 3,750 metres long and 60-metre wide first runway and its connected taxiways. This is just a spotlight on what we already achieved. We are very proud of the progress we have made and how we manage to realise all the tasks that come up within such a mega project in a short span of time.

What is left to finish on the project in terms of construction?

On the construction site of such a mega-project, there are a lot of tasks being performed at the same time. Right now we are working on the facade and roof cladding of the terminal building. Awarded with its design many times, the Air Traffic Control tower is currently underway.

The earthworks for the 4,100-metre long and 60-metre wide second runway and its connected taxi roads is proceeding.

When will the building of the 2nd and 3rd runways be complete and open?

The first runway which is 3,750 metres long and 60 metres wide has been finished in February, 2018 and is now ready for take-off and landing. Currently we are working for the second runway, which is about to finish. The third runway will be completed 16 months after the grand opening.

Is there are any new developments in terms of new airlines and handlers?

We are going to host around 60 airlines and three handling companies in the first year of operation. In addition to these, we are negotiating with the long-haul carriers and airlines that stop their flights previously or has never flown to Turkey before.

The airport is a mega project that will connect countries in terms of commerce, tourism and travel. Therefore I believe, more and more airlines and handlers you will see in INA, in time.

What have been the biggest challenges to date?

Building the largest airport from scratch in the world in 42 months of itself is the biggest challenge. With the great vision of Turkish Government, a huge area of 76.5 million square metres has been allocated for Istanbul New Airport project. This area was formerly used for mining activities, causing unexpected great geotechnical engineering challenges to be achieved prior to airport construction. To overcome this challenge, we have conducted comprehensive soil investigation, soil improvement, excavation and filling works in parallel to the construction works in a very short period.

As of April 2018, more than 640 million cubic metres of excavation and more than 250 million cubic metres of filling works have been carried out. Only these figures may give an idea about the greatness of the work done.

Furthermore, we have been applying a BIM model which allows us to do design and construction at the same time as well as airport management deals. We are in conversation with worldwide brands for creating a unique passenger experience. There is much work in this airport, especially when it’s done simultaneously, we believe with this characteristics, it is going to set an example to the world’s airports.

How will the airport boost logistics in Turkey?

Logistics is one of the industries which will be positively affected by this airport. ICAO suggested that world scheduled freight traffic, measured in freight tonne-kilometres (FTK) grew robustly by 9.5 per cent in 2017. Having a significant role in this, retail ecommerce sales worldwide reached $2.304 trillion (with 24.8% increase) while global m-commerce sales rose 40.3 per cent last year to $1.357 trillion, according to a research company, eMarketer.

Turkey also has a dynamic e-commerce industry and is aiming for larger share of global market with 2.5 times growth by 2021 according to Turkish Ministery of Transportation, Maritime and Communications. We are now constructing a 1.4 million square meter Cargo City with the facilities that go way beyond traditional cargo terminals with a capacity of 5.5 million tonnes and are capable of simultaneously handling wide-body cargo aircraft. We believe these efforts will sure boost the growth effect of both electronic and mobile commerce in Turkey and across the globe.

The aviation industry is growing and we see the limitation of capacities coming. Our project will make a huge contribution to the further growth of the industry. We saw the capacities of Istanbul Atatürk Airport at a limit due to those developments – so building the airport is a guarantee for giving not only to Turkish economy but also other economies in the regions more room to continue its strong growth. We will transform our geographical advantage into “economic value” with new airport. I may honestly point out that Istanbul New Airport will be the new aviation, tourism, trade and logistic center in the coming years with its advantageous position, the high capacities and services it provides.

What will be happening to Istanbul Ataturk Airport once INA opens?

On 29 October, the ‘big bang’ will happen – all scheduled flights to and from Istanbul Atatürk Airport will be delivered to Istanbul New Airport. Many passengers will take off in Atatürk, but when they are returning to the city, they will land at the new airport. So, Atatürk Airport will be closed to commercial flights once the new airport starts its operations. Only private jets will continue to use Atatürk Airport.

Will there be a phased approach to operations being switched between the two airports?

The closing of Atatürk Airport and opening of INA will be the world’s largest airport transfer to date. For the first time in history, an airport with a capacity of around 70 million passengers will be transferred in its entirety 45 kilometres away. This needs detailed planning. For the successful opening of the world’s biggest greenfield airport, we have established an ORAT (Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer) project.

ORAT is a best-practice methodology used world-wide for the testing and opening of new airports. It comprises the preparation of the airport operator and stakeholders to be ready for the operation of the new airport (Readiness), a detailed familiarization program for all future airport employees, the planning and execution of technical, operational and system trainings and, finally, a comprehensive trial program.

The trial program consists of more than 150 different simulations of real airport situations. Staff, procedures and systems will be tested like under real operational conditions in order to guarantee a smooth and successful opening on October 29th. Apart from the activities at the new airport site, a dedicated team is planning the transfer of all equipment and flights from the current airport to the new one.

This month ORAT team will start with operational trials in the terminal building together with airlines and stakeholders. Until October more than 150 different scenarios will be simulated, to guarantee the readiness of the airport and its stakeholders for the successful opening. The transfer of Atatürk Airport to Istanbul New Airport in October 2018, will be the world’s biggest airport transfer ever conducted in a single night and this is exactly why we call it big bang.

Are you holding an event to mark the opening of INA?

Our opening ceremony will be held on 29 October with the participation of high-level, foreign government officials and guests around the globe. We have already started with preparations for our grand opening ceremony months ago. We are literally planning to break a new ground of the new form of civil aviation with our opening.

Has a name been decided yet or will it just be called INA?

Istanbul New Airport is a BOT (built-operate-transfer) project, which means that İGA will built and operate the project for 25 years and hand it over to Turkish government after 25 years. That is why Turkish government will decide the name, not İGA as the builder and operator.