Istanbul Airport - The Big Shift 

16 May 2019 by Riaan Jacob George

Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport as a hub has always worked in favour of Indian travellers, given Turkish Airlines’ impressive connectivity. While technically not considered part of the middle east hubs — Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha — Istanbul’s geographical location, as well as its home carrier Turkish Airlines’ daily direct services from Mumbai and Delhi, have made it a great gateway to Europe and North America. While Ataturk served its purpose as a transit hub, it was ageing and operating over its capacity. The much-awaited new Istanbul Airport opened up amidst much fanfare, albeit many delays, on April 6, and comes as good news for westbound Indian travellers, who can now enjoy a state-of-the-art transit experience.

Dubbed by flag carrier as “The Great Move”, this shift between Ataturk and the new airport, a logistical and administrative task, began on October 29, 2018. The final transfer happened on April 6, 2019, a 45-hour-long process during which, both Ataturk and the new Istanbul Airport were shut for a period of twelve hours. This massive move has been one of the most epic  “same city” airport moves in history, much like the previous shifts in cities like Bangkok and Hong Kong. The last flight out of Ataturk Airport was Turkish Airlines’ flight to Singapore, while the first flight out of the new Istanbul Airport was the Istanbul-Ankara flight by the same airline.

M. Ilker Ayci, Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee at Turkish Airlines comments, “The biggest move of the aviation industry just took place. The combined size of the equipment we transferred could cover 33 football pitches,” alluding to the freight worth of 5000 trucking rigs, which were moved, including 47,400 tons of equipment. These include aircraft towing equipment, cargo apparatus, and other aviation equipment. This airport is said to be the largest infrastructure project in the history of Turkey.

A few facts and figures to put this new airport said to be the biggest airport in the world, is constructed over 76.5 million sqm, in an area north of Istanbul, just under 40 kms from downtown Istanbul. The terminal currently boats a maximum annual capacity of 90 million passengers, likely to go up to 200 million once all the phases of construction have been completed, including the four terminals and six runways. Estimates suggest that the entire project cost could amount to 6 billion pounds, and is projected to be the busiest airport in the world, racing ahead of its middle eastern counterparts. The terminal itself is a large sprawl of 1.4 million sq. m. making it the largest terminal building in the world. The terminal itself is an example of cutting edge, contemporary design, largely inspired by Istanbul’s Ottoman heritage. Even the ATC tower is fashioned along Turkey’s national symbol, the tulip.

In terms of transit experience, the new Istanbul Airport now gives stiff competition to existing transit hubs like Dubai International and Hamad International Airport in Doha. Home carrier Turkish Airlines is, of course, going all out to establish itself as a world leader in east-west hubs, by capitalising on its impressive network and, of course, by offering this premium airport experience.

At 0300 hrs on April 6, the new Istanbul Airport took on the airport code IST, which previously belonged to Ataturk airport. Ataturk Airport (now using the ISL code) will be used for VIP movement and cargo flights.

The Great Move

The equivalent freight worth of 5000 trucking rigs was carried during the big shift. The distance covered is estimated at 400,000 kms in total, which is equivalent to circling the earth ten times over. This entire operation is being manned by 1800 personnel.

India-Istanbul connectivity 

Turkish Airlines operates one daily flight each from Mumbai and Delhi on a Boeing 777-300ER to Istanbul, with easy onward connections to Europe and North America. Indian passengers can enjoy great connectivity to Turkish Airlines’ Mumbai and Delhi flights with its Star Alliance partner Air India Indigo also operates a daily Delhi-Istanbul service, in codeshare with Turkish Airlines

Istanbul Airport City

Just outside the terminal, Istanbul Airport City is a township of sorts, comprising hotels, shopping, dining and cultural activities, in addition to office spaces, private residences and even an area for trade shows.

The new Istanbul Airport is situated 35 kms from downtown Istanbul. Taxis are available to the city, in addition to many other travel options like public transport, shuttles and private transfers.

Istanbul Airport in numbers

Terminal building: 140,000 sqm

Duty Free: 55,000 sqm

F&B spaces: 32,000 sqm

Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge: 22,000 sqm

Airport Hotel: 450 rooms

Check-in counters: 500+

Passport control counters: 228

Passenger boarding gates: 143

LIfts, escalators, travelators: 600

Chairs: 20,000

Parking capacity: 40,000 vehicles


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