The mass transfer of flights to the new airport for Istanbul (ISL), which was expected to take place on December 31, has been delayed for a second time. The facilities were originally slated to open in late October and although Turkish Airlines launched five flights a day from ISL at the end of the month, little further traffic has been moved the new site since. The decision to delay again came after a lengthy meeting on December 18 that involved the Turkish government, Turkish Airlines and İstanbul Grand AirPort (İGA - the firm responsible for building and running the new facilities).
The timeline the new airport project was tight from the outset. Groundbreaking took place just four and half years ago on June 7, 2014, although it was May of the following year before construction commenced. The scale of the building work was - and continues to be - enormous. The first phase alone includes a 14m sq ft terminal capable of handling 90m passengers per year. There will be 12,000 parking spaces for vehicles and 88 gates for aircraft, and two runways will be linked to 43m sq ft of apron via eight parallel taxiways.
INA is the largest infrastructure project in Turkey and when its later phases are completed, it will vie for the world's top spot in terms of passenger capacity. Development is expected to continue until at least 2028 and by then the site will also include office buildings, hotels, mosques and conference centres.
The project has been plagued with challenges since work commenced. In February 2018 the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet claimed that more than 400 workers had been killed during the construction, although the Turkish Ministry of Labour and Social Security claimed the total was 27. Protests broke out in September this year after workers travelling to the site on a bus were injured in a road accident. Complaints also surfaced over the living conditions in the dormitories provided for staff involved in the project.
Nevertheless, the official inauguration of ISL took place as planned on October 29, 2018 - the 95th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. It was originally anticipated that all flights would transfer to ISL from the the city's overcrowded Atatürk Airport over the following three or four days. In the event, the first flight took place on October 31 when Turkish Airlines operated a flight between ISL and Ankara. The following day the airline added single daily frequencies to Antalya, Baku, North Nicosia, and İzmir. In December, Adana and Trabzon were included in the network. These destinations are all still served more frequently from Atatürk, as well as from the city's other airport Sabiha Gökçen. No other airlines have moved any services to ISL yet.
Istanbul's new airport will not be sufficiently complete to allow all flights to be transferred from Atatürk on December 31. (İstanbul Grand AirPort)
Meanwhile reports have recently surfaced that construction work is still far from complete. Travellers using the facilities only last week reported some elevator shafts in the car parks still lack glass side walls, leaving open eight storey drops. Other parts of the parking garages have not been completed. The arrivals level of the terminal is not finished and inbound passengers must go up to the departures level in order to leave the building. Most lifts and escalators are said not to work, the car rental facilities have not been fitted out, and most offices are bare.
Turkish Airlines is said to be concerned about the possibility of incomplete facilities hampering transfers, especially when operations at ISL are scaled up and all of its traffic moves from Atatürk. This may in part be behind the latest delay, and as yet no specific date in March has been identified for the complete transfer of operations to ISL.
It comes as no surprise to The Aviation Oracle - and many other observers - that the complete transfer of flights from Atatürk to ISL has been delayed again. Turkish Airlines is a world-class operator that flies to more destinations across the globe than any other carrier. It deserves top-notch facilities and while Atatürk is far from ideal, it is better than putting travellers through a new facility that is far from complete. Even March 2018 may be ambitious, but ISL is a prestigious project for Turkey and the government seems to be determined to get full operations up and running as soon as possible. Watch this space.
Text © The Aviation Oracle