Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has inaugurated a massive new airport project in Istanbul, which, once complete, is expected to become one of the world’s largest. More than 50 foreign dignitaries from at least 18 countries on Monday attended the lavish opening ceremony of the first phase of the new facility, called Istanbul Airport, local media reported.
Mr. Erdogan dubbed the new facility Istanbul Airport, ending months of speculation over its name which included rumors that he would allow it to be called after himself.
“Istanbul is not only our largest city,” he said before a massive crowd of dignitaries, officials, and journalists, gathered beneath the vaulted ceiling of the airport terminal, “It is our most important brand. It’s a beautiful jewel between two seas. It can be compared to the sun of this earth.” that’s why we called [the airport] Istanbul,”
Erdogan said at the ceremony which coincided with the 95th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
“We see Istanbul Airport as an investment not only in our country but also in our region and the world,” he added. Erdogan said the new facility will continue to grow for the next decade until all phases are completed by 2028, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. It is expected that a daily 2,000 aircraft from more than 250 carriers will go through the airport by the end of 2018 to over 350 destinations, said Anadolu. Constructed at an initial cost of $7.2bn, the new facility is expected to provide more than $30.65bn in revenue for the government and host 90 million passengers by the end of the 2018 and up to 200 million upon completion in 2028.
According to preliminary 2017 figures from the Airport Council International, Atlanta airport in the United States hosted almost 104 million passengers last year.
Next came Beijing with 95.7 million passengers, Dubai with 88.2 million, Tokyo with 85.4 million and Los Angeles with 84.5 million.
Praising Istanbul’s geographic location, a bridge between Asia and Europe, Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eksi said: “The opening of Istanbul New Airport will further contribute and create new opportunities to promote the cultural and commercial relations between Istanbul and Hong Kong”.
Among those present at the inauguration ceremony were Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and leaders from Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Albania and Serbia.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says global air traffic is growing at an annual rate of 3.5 percent, with 4.1 billion passengers expected to take to the air this year, doubling to 8.2 billion by 2037. IATA has repeatedly warned that airports around the world will struggle to deal with this expansion, and has urged governments to make necessary investments.
According to IGA, the company responsible for constructing and operating the new facility in Istanbul, the airport will initially have three runways and, by 2028, six runways with a capacity of 500 aircraft. Spread over an area of 76.5 million square meters, it will also boast car parks for around 70,000 cars.
The new airport is set to eventually handle as many as 200 million passengers a year, twice is many as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. It was built by a consortium of five large, politically connected Turkish contractors – Limak, Kolin, Cengiz, Mapa and Kalyon – on a build-operate-transfer model that will allow the builders to reap profits off the facility for the next 20 years while paying the country $25 billion in rent. London-based firm Grimshaw Global led the design team for the terminal, which includes skylights inspired by Ottoman-era mosques.
The first daily flight from the airport will begin on 31 October, to the Turkish capital of Ankara, followed by daily flights to Izmir, and Antalya as well as to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and Ercan, the capital of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. The launch of full operations has been pushed back to 29 December.
The airport’s size corresponds to the grand ambitions of Mr. Erdogan, who has vowed to make Turkey, a nation of 81 million perched between Europe and Asia, a world power. “This is not just an airport. This is a monument to victory,” said a sign inside the facility at the opening ceremony.
The airport’s maiden voyage will be from Istanbul to the Turkish capital, Ankara, on October 31. Meanwhile, Istanbul’s current main airport – named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – will remain in operation until the end of this year, Erdogan said, after which it will be closed to commercial flights.