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Looking to Istanbul’s New Airport

A Turkish A321 in London (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The opening of Istanbul’s new mega-airport, meant to help alleviate the difficulties that have arisen from operating the current Ataturk Airport at full capacity, has been plagued with difficulties and delays as the initial stage passes three and a half years of construction.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially opened the airport on Oct. 29, the 95th anniversary of the creation of the Republic of Turkey. The airport had originally been scheduled for a full-scale opening that day, as the airline’s leadership and operators had hoped to bring all flights to the airport over the course of a two-day span. However, the official opening was delayed just a couple weeks ago to either Dec. 30 or 31.

According to Business Insider, Erdoğan emphasized the very global impact the new airport would have, especially under the watchful utilization of national flag carrier Turkish Airlines.

We have completed this project, and we are officially launching the first stage,” Erdogan said at a ceremony. “We did not build the Istanbul Airport for our country. It is a great service we are offering to the region and the world.”

The airport’s first flight departed Nov. 1, according to OneMileAtATime, a somewhat ceremonial Boeing 777-300ER flight from the somewhat non-creatively named Istanbul Airport—which until the official switchover of traffic from Ataturk Airport is operating under the IATA code ISL—to the country’s capital of Ankara. That is one of only four destinations currently receiving flights from the new airport, the other three being Izmir, Turkey; Baku, Azerbaijan; and Ercan, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Of course, this stage of construction is only one of four, a small part of the 15-year, $11.7 billion project that is meant to allow further growth in the nation’s largest city as the former largest airport has proven unfit to contain all the traffic that Turkish Airlines and other carriers alike have brought to Istanbul. Turkish Airlines currently operates flights to 302 destinations in 120 countries—the most of any airline—273 of which the airline operates out of Ataturk, which has continued to put stress on the infrastructure on Ataturk, which officially opened as an airport in 1953 and has been left without many expansion opportunities.

In 2017, the airport handled over 60 million combined domestic and international travelers, making it the fifth busiest in Europe and fifteenth busiest in the world. The new airport, however, will have the capacity to handle around 200 million passengers annually, a figure that nearly doubles Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson’s passenger traffic of 103 million, currently the busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger traffic.

Once this initial stage is completed, Istanbul Airport will be able to comfortably serve 90 million passengers annually, approximately 41 percent higher than Ataturk’s current passenger numbers. Additionally, after construction of the airport is complete—currently the completion of the fourth stage is scheduled for 2030—it will boast four terminals, six runways, 16 taxiways, 165 jet bridges, and a 70,000,000 square-foot apron with the capacity to park nearly 500 aircraft if necessary.

And while the true opening of the new super-airport is around two months away, the opening ceremony signifies the beginning of a new chapter for Turkish Airlines, Istanbul, and Turkey alike, as all three look to cement their place as some of the modern giants of the aviation industry.

Parker Davis


  • Parker Davis

    Parker joined AirlineGeeks as a writer and photographer in 2016, combining his longtime love for aviation with a newfound passion for journalism. Since then, he’s worked as a Senior Writer before becoming Editor-in-Chief of the site in 2020. Originally from Dallas and an American frequent flyer, he left behind the city’s rich aviation history to attend college in North Carolina, where he’s studying economics.

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