Istanbul to unveil new airport, seeks to be world's biggest

Phase one of Istanbul's new airport with an annual capacity of 90 million passengers is ready for its official opening on Monday. The inauguration ceremony will take place on Republic Day, the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, with the attendance of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and more than 50 foreign leaders, ministers, and high-level officials.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has held plenty of grand opening ceremonies in his 15 years at Turkey's helm. On Monday he will unveil one of his prized jewels — Istanbul New Airport — a megaproject.

Erdoğan is opening what he claims will eventually become the world's largest air transport hub on the 95th anniversary of Turkey's establishment as a republic. It's a symbolic launch, as only limited flights will begin days later and a full move won't take place until the end of the year.

The €6-billion ($7.2 billion) first stage, which was built in nearly three years through a public-private partnership model, is among a set of mega projects planned as part of a series of objectives for Turkey's 2023 centennial.

On Monday, two runways -- 3,750 and 4,100 meters long -- will go into service as a part of the first phase, including three separate airstrips.

According to the IGA consortium, the contractor and operator of the project, over the next 10 years the new airport will reach an annual capacity of 200 million passengers with the completion of all four phases with six runways.

Turkish airports welcomed nearly 164 million people between January and September this year, while over 31 percent of air passengers used Turkey's busiest airport, Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

Following the country's national flag carrier Turkish Airlines' shift to the new airport by the end of this year, the Ataturk Airport campus will transition to other uses, such as training activities, aviation fairs, and civil use.

At full capacity, Istanbul's new airport is set to become a global aviation hub by hosting more than 100 airlines and flights to over 300 destinations around the World.

Istanbul New Airport, on shores of the Black Sea, will serve 90 million passengers annually in its first phase. At its completion in ten years, it will occupy nearly 19,000 acres and serve up to 200 million travelers a year with six runways. That's almost double the traffic at world's biggest airport currently, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.

"This airport is going to be the most important hub between Asia and Europe," Kadri Samsunlu, head of the 5-company consortium Istanbul Grand Airport, told reporters Thursday.

The airport's interiors nod to Turkish and Islamic designs and its tulip-shaped air traffic control tower won the 2016 International Architecture Award. It also uses mobile applications and artificial intelligence for customers, is energy efficient and boasts a high-tech security system.

All aviation operations will move there at the end of December when Istanbul's main international airport, named after Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is closed down. Atatürk Airport now handles 64 million people a year. On the Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gökçen Airport handled 31 million passengers last year. It will remain open.

Erdoğan is expected to announce the official name of the new airport, part of his plan to transform Turkey into a global player.

Turkish Airlines will launch its first flights out of the new airport to three local destinations: Ankara, Antalya and Izmir. It will also fly to Baku and Ercan in northern Cyprus.

Megaprojects in northern Istanbul like the airport, the third bridge connecting Istanbul's Asian and European shores and Erdoğan's yet-to-start plans for a man-made canal parallel to the Bosporus strait are also impacting the environment.

These projects are spurring additional construction of transportation networks, housing and business centers in Istanbul, where more than 15 million people live.

Samsunlu, the airport executive, said an "airport city" for innovation and technology would also be built.

The five Turkish companies that won the $29 billion tender in 2013 under the "build-operate-transfer" model have been financing the project through capital and bank loans. IGA will operate the airport for 25 years.

The airport consortium hopes the world's growing aviation industry will generate both jobs and billions of dollars in returns.

"Istanbul New Airport will remain ambitious for growth and we will carry on mastering the challenge to be the biggest and the best. That's our motto," Samsunlu said.

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