ISTANBUL, 17 April 2018: Istanbul’s giant new airport, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes will make the city a global air traffic hub, is 85% finished and will open on time this year, the transport minister at the weekend.
Much of the airport still resembles a construction site with skeletal unfinished buildings still in evidence but Turkey is confident that the building is on schedule.
Trucks and bulldozers still criss-cross the site of the USD10 billion project, leaving waves of dust in their wake, said an AFP correspondent who was given a rare glimpse on a tour for foreign journalists.
Arslan said that at 67.6 million square metres the airport would be the largest by size in the world.
There have been major concerns over reports of a high fatality rate at the airport’s construction site.
Arslan emphasised there were some 35,000 people working there and over the course of construction 13 workers had died due to work related accidents and 14 for reasons not related to work.
– ‘Ataturk will close to commercial flights’ –
The airport is targeting a capacity of 90 million passengers per year after opening but Arslan said it hopes that this will eventually rise to 250 million when all facilities are completed.
The new airport, which is 35 kilometres (22 miles) from the centre of Istanbul, is intended to entirely replace the existing Ataturk International Airport as the city’s main hub.
Arslan played down concerns that the airport’s location on the Black Sea was relatively remote, saying a new metro line was being built that would leave a journey from the centre of just 25 minutes.
It is one of a string of massive infrastructure projects championed by Erdogan for the city which have included the completion of a new bridge over the Bosphorus and two tunnels underneath it, as well as planned new shipping canal.
Ataturk Airport, named after the founding father of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is to be shut to commercial traffic once the new airport opens, the minister said.
“We will move all the equipments from Ataturk within 48 hours. Ataturk will close to commercial flights and will be mainly used by the civil aviation authority, private flights and VIPs,” said Arslan
The name of the new airport has yet to be announced, with speculation that it could be named again after Ataturk, an Ottoman sultan or even Erdogan himself. Arslan said the name had yet to be decided.
Istanbul’s other airport, which is located on the Asian side of the city, is Sabiha Gokcen, named after one of Ataturk’s adopted daughters who was the first Turkish female fighter pilot.
The new airport is being built by airport construction consortium IGA which is a joint venture of five major Turkish industrial firms — Cengiz, MAPA, Limak, Kolin and Kalyon.
– ‘Satisfy our needs’ –
Ataturk airport had become one of Europe’s busiest airports in recent years but is now at maximum capacity and unable to expand more at its congested urban site.
“Ataturk’s yearly capacity is 60 million passengers but falls short of satisfying our needs,” said Arslan.
“It’s congested and many countries want to plan more flights to Ataturk but we are unable to answer their request and this is why a new airport is needed,” he added.
The new airport will be the home of fast growing flag-carrier Turkish Airlines (THY), which is 49% owned by the government through a wealth fund, and whose rise has been strongly supported by Erdogan to create a national champion.
THY passenger numbers have swelled from just 14 million in 2005 to 69 million in 2017.
In a sign of its ambitions ahead of the opening of the new airport, Turkish Airlines said in March it was planning to buy at least 50 wide-body aircraft from Airbus and Boeing up to 2024.
© Agence France-Presse