Istanbul’s new airport aims to be one of world’s largest

CNN  — 

It’s ambitious, award-winning and already hit with controversies. Istanbul’s new airport is officially fully functioning, following last October’s inauguration.

The swanky new airport aims to establish itself as a major travel hub and a key player on the world aviation stage, thanks to Turkey’s East-meets-West location.

Once completed, the airport will be pretty huge – the total project area is 76.5 million square meters. It’s supposed to have the world’s largest terminal under one roof, although it’s opening in phases and only limited flights will take off at first.

But the PR team says the airport is “built to grow” and they hope the airport will see 200,000 or more passengers passing through daily.

Controversial project

The tulip-shaped control tower.

The airport’s tulip-shaped control tower and striking design won first prize in the “Future projects – Infrastructure” category at the 2016 World Architectural Festival in Berlin.

Istanbul New Airport calls itself a “green” airport, thanks to its recycling capabilities and rainwater utilization capacity. However, some environmental groups have hit back – arguing the airport construction has caused mass deforestation.

There have also been accusations of poor working conditions and workers dying on site. Turkey’s Ministry of Labor has blamed “health problems and traffic accidents” for 27 worker fatalities on site, according to reports.

The total cost of the project is roughly $12 billion.

New aviation center

The design won first prize in the "Future projects -- Infrastructure" category at the 2016 World Architectural Festival in Berlin.

Ataturk International Airport has technically ceased operations and Istanbul New Airport is now the city’s aviation center.

There has also been widespread construction to connect the airport to the rest of the city – via metro, road and high-speed train.

The team hope the airport will become one of the world’s busiest within the next few years – igniting the Turkish economy and generating jobs – but time will tell whether the new project has a smooth takeoff or gets grounded in further delays.

The significance of Istanbul New Airport

The team hopes the airport will become one of the world's busiest within the next few years.

CNN Travel asked three European aviation experts to weigh in on how Istanbul’s new airport might impact the transport world.

‘The project is unprecedented’

“From an airport planning perspective, the project is unprecedented, both in terms of its size (the eventual plan is for the airport to accommodate 200 million passengers, which is nearly double the size of the current largest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) and, in particular, the speed with which the project was attempted.

To complete an airport project of this size in just three and a half years was extremely challenging, not least in terms of ensuring timely operational readiness of all related facilities, systems, procedures and equipment needed to run the airport (Berlin’s Brandenburg Airport provides a stark example of what can go wrong with a new airport project like this).

Politically, it is important for Turkey, President Erdogan, and his party, opening on the 95th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic. Building a new airport is inevitably a vastly expensive undertaking (reportedly around $12 billion), and there have been concerns around the coincidence of this with a general downturn in the Turkish economy. There have also been ethical concerns raised about labor practices involving the thousands of workers needed to the complete the project on time.

While there will likely be challenges ahead, there are several factors acting in the airports favor, including the relatively strong existing domestic air transport market in Turkey (which rivals in the Middle East generally do not have to the same extent), and the fact that the airport is less likely to face the same degree of potentially constraining environmental legislation, which is generally the case for large airports in Western Europe.

Regardless, the airport will certainly have an impact (one way or another) for air transport both within the region and globally.” –

Dr Thomas Budd, Lecturer in Airport Planning and Management, Centre for Air Transport Management, Cranfield University, UK

‘Aviation demand in Turkey is growing rapidly’