Turkey’s center of aviation literally shifted a few kilometers to the northwest this weekend, with the successful move of all operations from Atatürk Airport to the brand new Istanbul Airport. The move is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – since Hong Kong’s Kai Tak moved to Chek Lap Kok in 1998.
Aspiring to become the hub between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey has been building the new gateway since 2015. The first phase was officially opened by president Erdogan late October last year, but after numerous delays ‘the Great Move’ had to wait until this week.
At 3 am in the night from Thursday to Friday, the projected 45-hour move of all mobile and re-usable objects like trucks, carts, trolleys and more from Atatürk commenced, going the 35 kilometers long way by road to the northwest. At the same time, Turkish Airlines started a raft of ferry flights to Istanbul Airport. At 9.00 am on Friday, 38 percent of the move had been completed.
Istanbul Airport is the new home of Turkish Airlines. (IGA)
Early on Saturday, 319 passengers and 18 crews on board a Turkish Airlines 777 as TK84 to Singapore were the last to depart the old airport. The departure also marked a temporary closure of Turkey’s major airports for normal operations between 2.00 am and 2.00 pm on Saturday. In this period Turkish ferried over 100 aircraft of its fleet to the new airport. At 8.00 am, 94 percent of all moves were completed, according to Turkish Airlines vice president media relations Yahya Ustün on Twitter. This meant that after 33 hours the move had been more or less completed.
Istanbul flights resumed at 2.25 pm, with an A321 as TK2154 the first commercial service to depart Istanbul Airport for Ankara. By now it had got the familiar airport callsign IST, having been called ISL until then. This callsign is now used for Atatürk, which will remain in use for cargo flights an MRO operations until further notice.
On Sunday afternoon Turkish Airlines had operated 48 flights into Istanbul Sabiha Gökcen Airport. Some international airlines that had stopped flying to Istanbul on Saturday made their first appearances at the new airport.
Right now, the new airport has a capacity of 90 million passengers. (IGA)
IST phase 1 and 2 is able to handle 90 million passengers a year, with a concept of having all under a single roof and four runways. Phase 3 will see capacity grow by 60 million by constructing a second terminal building. Once phase 4 is completed by 2028 to add 50 million more passengers, Istanbul Airport will have a capacity of 200 million. This should make it the biggest airport in the world. That’s until Dubai World Central hopes to trash this record, if it will be developed step-by-step to 220 million in the 2030s.