After several very embarrassing delays, Turkish Airlines says a date for what it calls the “Great Move” from Istanbul Ataturk Airport to the New Istanbul Airport has finally been set. The government-owned airline plans to move its entire operation starting at 2am on 6th April 2019 – the airline hopes to complete the mammoth task in just 12-hours, with all scheduled Turkish Airlines flights planned to operate from New Istanbul Airport by 2pm on 6th April.
Work on the $12 billion airport project, which in its first phase will be capable of handling 90 million passengers per year, got underway in 2015. The project was expected to be finished in just three years and Turkish Airlines planned to switch to the airport overnight following a grand unveiling ceremony in late October 2018.
Unfortunately, officials had to postpone the huge switchover from Istanbul’s current main airport, Istanbul Ataturk (IST) because so much work was still left to do. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to press ahead with the unveiling ceremony of the new airport on 29th October and a couple of weeks later, Turkish Airlines started a soft opening with a mere handful of flights a day operating from the airport.
Officials then announced that they hoped to fully open the airport in December but it didn’t take long for that date to be postponed and soon a date was set for March 2019. Continuing construction delays, extensive flooding, contract disputes and even concerns the project was about to run out of money were all cited as being behind the embarrassing delays.
It then transpired that officials had decided to push the grand opening back yet again until after local elections which are set to take place on 31st March because they feared a catastrophe could hit the new airport. At least 41 victims were killed in a 2016 terror attack at Ataturk Airport when two armed assailants started shooting people in the arrivals hall before blowing themselves up with suicide vests.
It’s taken 200,000 workers to complete the first phase of New Istanbul Airport which consists of a main 1.4 million square metre terminal building, along with an ATC tower and two main runways. The airport code is currently ISL, although there are suggestions that once operations have moved from Ataturk the new airport will take over the IST code.
Within a decade, the completion of new construction will increase capacity at the airport to 200 million passengers per year – to put that in perspective, Atlanta Hartsfield which is currently the busiest airport in the world handles just over 100 million passengers per year.
This whole project has been dogged with problems and controversy – critics describe it as a glory project dreamt up by Erdoğan and there have been concerns about workers rights during construction. Officials, however, maintain that the airport is vital for the continuing economic success of the country and figures released by the airport suggest it could contribute as much as 4.5% of Turkey’s GDP by 2025.