“The Great Move”: Istanbul’s New Airport Now Fully Operational

Apr 7, 2019

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After 33 hours, Turkish Airlines, the flag carrier and largest airline in Turkey, has completed its massive move from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport (ISL) to the airline’s new home at Istanbul Airport (IST). Turkish Airlines even completed what’s been dubbed “The Great Move” ahead of schedule. While the airline initially planned for the move from Ataturk to the new Istanbul Airport to take 45 hours, the airline confirmed in a press release that it managed to complete the process 12 hours earlier than planned. The entire process of moving all passenger flights from Ataturk Airport to the new Istanbul Airport was completed around 8pm local time on Saturday.

However, The Great Move comes after months of delays, with Istanbul’s new airport originally projected to replace Ataturk Airport during the final days of 2018. Subsequent target dates were not met as operational delays at the new airport forced airlines to prolong service at Istanbul-Ataturk. Four months late, the new Istanbul Airport has officially replaced Ataturk Airport as the primary passenger airport serving Istanbul.

Turkish Airlines aircraft sit on the ramp at the new Istanbul Airport (Image by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish Airlines aircraft sit on the ramp at the new Istanbul Airport (Image by OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

“The Great Move”

In 2018, Istanbul’s former international airport, Ataturk Airport, saw nearly 68 million passengers pass through its terminals. Its 67.9 million annual passengers put Ataturk Airport at number 17 on the list of world’s largest airports in terms of passenger movement. The Great Move entailed relocating aircraft, ground equipment and airport staff from the world’s 17th busiest airport in less than two days. Miraculously, the entire process took 12 hours less than expected.

To relocate ground equipment, Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Eski noted in a press release, the airline used 686 semi trucks and 1,800 people to transport more than 10,000 pieces of equipment weighing 47,300 tons.

In the press release, Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee M. Ilker Ayci said that saying farewell to Ataturk Airport was “a highly saddening experience” for the airline. Ayci went on to highlight Turkish Airlines’ massive growth in recent years, citing the growth as one of the major reasons for the construction of a new airport serving the Istanbul region.

“As Turkish Airlines became unable to fit its mold with its efficient growth performance, the need for a new home that will support its development and open its way with capacity and other physical capabilities was born,” Ayci explained.

Ayci calls the new Istanbul Airport the “biggest airport project of the world.” The massive project broke ground in June 2014 and it came with a price tag of an estimated $7.8 billion USD. The new airport covers more than 832 million square feet and, with an initial capacity of 90 million passengers annually with room for up to 200 million passengers in the coming years.

Turkish Airlines aircraft are seen parked at gates at the new Istanbul Airport (Image by IGA / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Turkish Airlines aircraft are seen parked at gates at the new Istanbul Airport (Image by IGA/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Operations at the New Istanbul Airport

Reports from the airport during its first day of being completely operational have mostly been positive. With the airport’s largest tenant, Turkish Airlines, having completed its move ahead of schedule, flights have been operating on time and without major issues.

However, not everyone is happy with the airport’s new digs. Twitter user Ray Kazan (@raykazan) shared his experience checking in at the new Istanbul Airport, showing a long line at the Gulf Air counters. Kazan noted in his Tweet that the check-in area in particular was “extremely dysfunctional”.

Still, reports of operational issues as a result of The Great Move have been limited. Both Flightradar24 and Flightview show that most departing and arriving flights are, indeed, operating on time.

Ataturk Airport Following The Great Move

Ataturk Airport has taken on a new airport code: ISL. Though passenger flights have ceased at Ataturk Airport, the airport will continue to serve cargo flights. Images posted by Twitter user @inagrogg show a desolate and abandoned space post-move.

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Featured image by Serhat Cagdas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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