When will the new Istanbul Airport open?

Sultan Suleyman, known as the Magnificent, gave the order to build a mosque on the third hill of Istanbul. He hired Sinan, his best builder. The terrain was difficult, but Sinan created a masterpiece, one of the landmarks of Istanbul.

A good 450 years later, the architect Nicholas Grimshaw was inspired by the Süleymaniye when he designed the new airport of the Bosphorus metropolis: The incidence of light from above that fills the entire room, the colors and shapes inspired the British and his Norwegian partners from the Nordic Office of Architecture. A religious building from the 16th century as a template for a modern temple of transport?

In the spacious airport hall, the view stretches upwards, and plenty of light ensures a friendly welcome. Dome roofs and columns take on Ottoman models and reinterpret them, avoiding any hint of oriental kitsch. Quite different from some of the newer buildings in the center of Istanbul, where the attempt to lean on historical models failed completely.

White and gray tones are dominant in the new airport, which only bears the name "Istanbul". That calms you down. However, if you don't have enough time for the long journeys here, you get nervous. It is two kilometers from check-in to the gate furthest away, with conveyor belts helping. The head of the airport company IGA, Kadri Samsunlu, promises to save what time is lost in walking around during passport and baggage controls.

There are seven entrance gates, 500 check-in stations, over 200 passport control counters. There should be no longer long queues that travelers were used to from the recently always overcrowded Ataturk Airport. You can then waste your time in the extensive duty free shops, for which 55,000 square meters have been reserved. Airports are also cathedrals of commerce.

Sinan, the exceptional Ottoman architect, reinforced the foundation of the Süleymaniye with piles because of the enormous weight, and he let the cement dry very slowly. Only after the foundation had been set and he thought it was earthquake-proof, he had it built up high. The construction of the major airport in the north of Istanbul was also an engineering challenge.

The area was full of water holes because coal was once mined here. The subsoil had to be filled with 750 million cubic meters of earth. Until recently, skeptics expressed doubts about the stability of the foundations.

Ataturk Airport was on the Sea of ​​Marmara in the south of the 15 million metropolis, while the new airport was built at the opposite end of the city, close to the Black Sea. Conservationists objected to this location near Istanbul's water reservoirs. The cutting down of 657,000 trees was criticized. The number comes from an opinion by the Turkish Ministry of the Environment.

Aviation experts also expressed concerns because it is often windier on the Black Sea than in the south and because flocks of migratory birds pass through it. There were several lawsuits in court, and in the end the government won. Five construction companies were awarded the contract, they are considered close to the government, they also form the operating company IGA.

The new airport is eight times the size of the old one, and is intended to compete with other aviation hubs, such as Dubai or Frankfurt. "We have a geographic advantage," said IGA boss Samsunlu before the opening of the building Süddeutsche Zeitung. The route from London via Istanbul to Mumbai is simply shorter than that from London via Dubai to India. By 2023, when the Turkish Republic turns 100, says Samsunlu, "there will be at least 100 million passengers". That is the lofty goal.

Recently, before the current Turkish economic crisis, up to 140 million passengers were named or even 200 million by 2030. That would make Istanbul really the largest airport in the world. Today Atlanta ranks first in the US with a good 100 million travelers. The space for expansions in Istanbul would be there, but at the moment it looks more like we're happy that the airport is finished at all.

The airport, a "monument of victory" for Erdoğan

The schedule was probably too tight, even by Turkish standards. The foundation stone was laid in June 2014. At that time, the Gezi protests were not long over. Thousands of Istanbul residents tried to save a small park in the center of Istanbul from building in the summer of 2013. This is where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister and now president, failed with his construction project.

But the Gezi movement was dispersed to the wind after tough police operations, and Erdoğan savored his triumph. He called the airport project "a monument to victory".

The airport was officially opened in a festive ceremony by Erdoğan after only a good four years of construction on October 29, 2018, Republic Day. But the move from the old to the new airport planned for the same date had to be postponed, first to the end of the year, then to March and finally to the first weekend in April. The only explanation given was that Turkish Airlines needed a little more time.

From the end of October to the beginning of April there were then a limited number of domestic and some international flights every day, a kind of test run. So it could happen that one took off from the old Ataturk Airport and landed on the way back from Munich or Ankara at the new, still ghostly empty airport.

If you weren't careful, you were sitting in the wrong airport bus, like the traveler in a business suit who only noticed on the highway to the north that the direction of the compass was wrong. The bus driver turned out to be a master of improvisation. He stopped illegally on the shoulder, honked the horn until a taxi driver also stopped in the opposite lane and the passenger and luggage could transfer after climbing over the highway guardrail.