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 including CAAS 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 open for flights during a ceremony on Monday. The airport 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 4.5 million tonnes of cargo and 90 million passengers, but it will then be developed in phases with the aim of having capacity for 200 million passengers in 10-15 years.

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 INA 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 cargo is a major part of the airport and INA will have four times the capacity of Ataturk and it will help propel the growth of Turkish Cargo.

“Cargo is important. It is not put much attention but Turkish Cargo is growing to be a leading player. We will soon be in competition with Hong Kong International Airport in five to 10 years time,” Samsunlu said.

“More importantly at the facility, we can receive 30 freighters separately to the passenger aircraft (belly traffic). DHL is also developing a hub here (5 million) and UPS and FedEx are also going to operate,” he added.

Cargo operators will gradually move across to INA from Ataturk next year with the aim of all activities complete by the second haldf of 2019.

Samsunlu said the airport will be ready to receive them (handlers, freight forwarders etc) but operators need to carry out their investments first and it is waiting for them, so volumes into Istanbul will continue to go through Ataturk for a year.

He said INA will rival Dubai International Airport for freight and it will look to attract more freighters and international freight companies to the airport site, which will drive volumes.

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 has no more space to grow.

INA’s airport area compares to 12 million square metres at Heathrow Airport , 21 million square metres at Frankfurt Airport, 20 million square metres Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and 19 million square metres at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

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.

He said other development phases will eventually see another terminal added, with six runways possible sometime from 2026-28.

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

Slots won’t 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.