After a series of delays, Turkish authorities have set the full opening of Istanbul’s new airport for next month and the relocation of operations and equipment from Atatürk International Airport (IST) to happen from 3 a.m. local time on April 5 to 12 midnight on April 7. Labeled the “Great Move” by both İGA, the consortium that won the concession to build and manage Istanbul’s mega-airport for 25 years, and Turkish Airlines, IST’s largest operator accounting for almost 80 percent of the airport’s traffic, the changeover to Istanbul Airport (ISL) will involve 1,800 staff and see approximately 47,300 tons of equipment moved by road from Atatürk Airport to Istanbul Airport.
The switch from IST to ISL represents “the biggest move of the aviation history,” according to Turkish Airlines chairman İlker Aycı. “The combined size of the equipment we are going to transfer would cover 33 football pitches,” he said. The distance covered by the trucks transporting the equipment during the 45-hour period will amount to 400,000 kilometers (248,000 miles), a length equal to circling Earth ten times, Turkish Airlines noted.
Atatürk Airport and Istanbul Airport will close for all scheduled passenger flights between 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 6, Turkish Airlines said. İGA has advised passengers to check with airlines for details of their flights. Due to the move of its main hub, Turkish Airlines has canceled several flights between April 5 and April 20.
After the transfer process, the airports’ IATA codes will migrate and Atatürk Airport’s IST code will transfer to the new Istanbul Airport. Atatürk Airport, which will remain open for cargo and VIP passenger flights, will adopt the ISL code. The last scheduled flight carrying passengers from Atatürk Airport will be Turkish Airlines’ service to Singapore and the first flight after the “Great Move” will be the flag carrier’s Istanbul Airport to Ankara Esenboğa Airport service.
The official inauguration of the new airport, located north of Istanbul on the European side of the city—like Atatürk International Airport— took place on the planned date of October 29, 2018, the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. Dubbed the “world's new hub,” the project is one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s big infrastructure projects to showcase the country’s economic potential and allow Istanbul to more effectively compete with the mega-hubs in the Middle East, specifically Dubai, and counterparts in Europe. Atatürk International Airport ranks among the five busiest airports in Europe by passenger traffic and stands as the world’s 17th busiest gateway, according to preliminary data released this week by ACI World. It handled 67.9 million passengers last year, up 6.7 percent over 2017, in spite of its capacity constraints.
Atatürk opened for commercial operations in 1953 and the terminal sees far more passengers than its design capacity intended. Its location does not permit further land- or airside expansion, and the lack of space is the main reason Istanbul remains the only large hub in Europe and the Middle East that does not accommodate Airbus A380 services.
With no space or slot limitations, the new Istanbul Airport aims to address that deficiency. It will initially carry capacity for 90 million passengers annually and expand to six runways and 16 taxiways in four phases to allow for 200 million passengers. That would rank it ahead of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International, now the world’s largest airport by passenger capacity (104 million), The Moodie Davitt Report said. It will also become the world’s largest airport in terms of land area, standing at three and a half times the size of the 250 million-square-foot Beijing Capital International.
“Our challenge is to be the biggest and the best,” İGA CEO and general manager of Istanbul Airport Kadri Samsunlu said earlier this year when the company still hoped to execute the changeover in early March. Original plans called for the airport to become fully operational by the end of October last year, but the project timeline slipped several times, though authorities never gave a reason for the repeated delays. ISL now accommodates a dozen daily flights to mainly domestic destinations, all operated by Turkish Airlines. The move will bring the new airport’s network close to 300 destinations, and its goal stands at 350, which İGA believes should be within easy reach. “As a major hub at the intersection of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, we will bring the world closer together,” Samsunlu asserted.