How is Turkey's new Istanbul airport

Istanbul Airport: Recep Tayyip Erdogan's mega project

Constantinople, as Istanbul was called until the Turkish conquest in 1453, owed its size and wealth to its excellent location on the major shipping routes. Anyone who traded in the eastern Mediterranean could not miss this city, which separates the Black Sea from the Mediterranean and Asia from Europe.

Air transport is today what the shipping lanes were. At least that is how the Turkish government sees it: Istanbul as the interface between Europe and Asia. With the move from Ataturk Airport to the new airport, which is simply called “Istanbul”, the aim is to get closer to this geostrategic goal.

This mega-move began in the morning hours of April 6th. In the following 45 hours, around 700 trucks and 800 workers transported 10,000 pieces of equipment, machines, and vehicles weighing 47,000 tons. All Turkish Airlines passenger planes have been flying from the new airport since 2 p.m. on Saturday. It takes over the old abbreviation IST from its predecessor.

In an initial phase, the airport is expected to handle up to 90 million passengers a year. The operators - a consortium of five government-related construction companies called IGA (Istanbul Grand Airport) - expect around 100 million passengers annually by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the republic. That's what the world's largest airport, Atlanta in the US, has at the moment. In 2028, Istanbul Airport is even expected to have a capacity of 200 million passengers per year.

IST primarily wants to compete with transit airports such as Dubai, while the old airport will continue to be used as an air freight center.

Beijing and Berlin have something in common - both are working on a new airport in the capital. The difference: What has been going on for 13 years in Germany works in record time in China.

The new airport is 50 kilometers north of the European part of the city on the Black Sea. It measures 76.5 million square meters, that's around 10,000 soccer fields. This makes it eight times the size of Istanbul's old Ataturk Airport.

Construction began in 2014 and was originally due to be completed in 2017. The commissioning of the airport had been postponed several times. Nevertheless, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially opened the airport in October 2018 - although initially there were only a few flights to Ankara and Baku. The big move was initially postponed to the turn of the year, then to March and finally to April 6th.

However, the “Great Move” did not go entirely smoothly. Contrary to plan, only Turkish Airlines has initially relocated its flights. Smaller airlines will follow later. Problems had also arisen because several flights had been canceled or relocated around the weekend.

The project was discussed controversially from the start. Environmentalists complained that 650,000 trees had to be felled for the construction. Others warned that the groundwater supply of the 16 million metropolis of Istanbul could be massively impaired. The airport is also too low at 60 meters above sea level. 105 meters are recommended. Strong winds and fog from the Black Sea could also affect air traffic.

Above all, however, there was criticism of the working conditions. In order to keep to the schedule, numerous subcontractors had asked their employees to work overtime. Because of this and the lack of safety precautions, 27 workers are said to have died since 2005. Other sources even speak of 400 deaths.

The Istanbul residents groan because of the long journeys to the new airport. A train or metro connection does not yet exist. On the other hand, it was clear to every visitor that the old Ataturk Airport is hopelessly overloaded. It was not uncommon for the plane to park in the far corner of the overcrowded airport. Passengers then had to drive across the site for a long time before they reached the terminal. There they often encountered enormous snakes at passport control.

No wonder: The airline Turkish Airlines had gone on a rapid expansion course in recent years with state support. The number of passengers grew from just under 30 million in 2009 to 68 million in 2017.

The second, smaller airport on the Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gökcen, handles around 20 million passengers a year. It is to remain in operation until further notice.

Erdogan's infrastructure projects

For the president, the new airport is one of his most important prestige projects. A third bridge was also built over the Bosporus during Erdogan's reign (which has hardly been used so far). The planned “Istanbul Canal” is questionable. An artificial waterway is to be dug parallel to the Bosporus so that even more ships can pass from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean - and Ankara can charge fees for this. The passage through the Bosporus is free of charge.

Compared to this, the new airport on the Black Sea is considered ambitious, but not a megalomaniac. In fact, no one is so quick to dispute its strategic importance. Between the four major European airports (London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulles, Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt) and the East Asian metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, there is only Istanbul apart from Dubai on the Persian Gulf.

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