By: Matteo Legnani / Published: February 8, 2016
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Airways magazine.
At Istanbul Ataturk International Airport (IST), excavators work day and night to make space for a new apron with 24 additional parking stands. The Turkish capital airport has a desperate need of places to put airplanes after they land and before they take off again. The existing 128 parking positions, 38 connected to the terminals through boarding bridges, will soon be insufficient for an airport growing at a pace of 10-15% per year in passenger traffic.
When the existing international terminal opened back in January 2000, it was built to accommodate 20 million passengers per year. And, with IST recording the previous years was less than 10 million travelers then, the new building seemed more than enough to cope with future growth. What DHMI (Devlet Hava Meydanlari isletmesi—the State General Directorate of Airports Authority) did not calculate at the end of the Nineties, was the imminent boom of resident-carrier Turkish Airlines (TK).
Traditionally known for its poor service, frequent delays and aging aircraft, at the dawn of the new millennium, the Turkish flag carrier was about to transform itself into one of the leading airlines of the world, directly competing with the much-celebrated Gulf countries’ carriers in terms of fleet, worldwide network, connecting passengers and onboard service. In 2004, TK had a fleet of 73 aircraft serving a total of 102 destinations. Ten years later, in November 2014, it had become a “monster airline,” operating 266 airplanes over a network of 258 destinations, 220 of which were outside Turkey. The numbers recorded by Ataturk in the last decade reflect those of Turkish Airlines. In 2004, the airport registered 15,600,601 passengers, with a growth of 29% over the previous year, beginning a rush that has not stopped since. Five years later, in 2009, the figure was doubled with 29,757,384 travelers. In 2013, IST set a new record, registering 51,297,790 passengers (13.8% over 2012), ranking eighteenth in the world and fifth in Europe just behind Amsterdam. At the end of 2015, with over 60 million passengers, putting the Turkish capital airport just behind London LHR, Paris CDG and Frankfurt among the leading European hubs.
Origins and Development
With approximately 1,400 daily movements on average through 2014, all the infrastructures (runways, apron and terminals) are working well beyond their maximum capacity. This situation that was not predicted over sixty years ago, when the airport was inaugurated on August 7, 1953, on a plateau in the suburb of Yesilköy, situated 16 miles (24 km) southwest of the city center. The location, where Westinghouse International Company and IG White Engineering Corporation worked for four years starting in 1949, allowed little space for expansion because of the conformation of the land. Things were worsened by the overwhelming growth of Istanbul during the 1960s and 1970, when the city (today the largest in Europe with around 17 million inhabitants) surrounded the airport on three sides, the fourth side being the Mediterranean Sea.
The initial aerodrome consisted of a 10,000 square foot terminal building with a single runway oriented 06/24 (now 05/23) and 8,456 feet long. At the end of the Sixties, with wide-body aircraft appearing at the horizon of commercial aviation, DHMI decided to build a second runway 9,843 feet long. Completed in 1972, its 18/36 (now 17/35) orientation permitted independent operations, with landings generally on Runway 06 (now 05) and takeoffs from 18 (now 17). The north-south runway was duplicated at the end of the 1970s, the two assuming the present designation of 17L/35R and 17R/35L. The third runway was part of a master plan developed from 1971. The project by architect Hayati Tabanlioglu included Turkish Airlines maintenance hangars, a cargo center, a new ATC tower, aircraft fuel facilities and, most of all, a new 678,150 square foot terminal. It opened its doors on October 29, 1983, and was situated in the “V” shaped area formed by the runways. Still known as Yesilkoy, the almost-entirely-new airport was dedicated in 1985, to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey.
At the end of the Nineties, the decision by DHMI to build a new international terminal came together with the privatization of the airport. The consortium made by Tepe Group, Akfen Group and Vienna Airport (hence the acronym “TAV”) won the tender by promising to start airport operations within three years, 8 months and 20 days, and by investing a total of 390 million for a 20 million ppa-terminal and a 7,076-vehicle, multi-story car park (one of the largest in Europe). Today the TAV conglomerate also manages Ankara Esenboğa, Izmir Adnan Menderes and Gazipasa–Alanya airports in Turkey, Tbilisi and Batumi airports in Georgia, Monastir and Enfidha–Hammamet airports in Tunisia, Skopje and Ohrid airports in Macedonia, Madinah Airport in Saudi Arabia and Zagreb airport in Croatia. The area was conceded by DHMI to TAV on February 17, 1998, and, less than two years later, on January 10, 2000, the new terminal started operations. Initial agreement was for a period of five years, but, in 2001, TAV negotiated an amendment to extend the agreement in return for an extension to the international terminal. The $91million (€72 million) project, that included a 30 percent increase of floor surface with three new boarding bridges was concluded in May 2004, giving the terminal an annual capacity of 25.5 million passengers per year, while the concession agreement was extended for another 15.5 years at an amount of $4 billion. In December 2002, the M1 underground line station was inaugurated in the basement of the international terminal, opening a 40-minute-long journey to the city center, situated 15 miles (24km) to the northeast.
Today, IST features a 3,766,792 square foot terminal area handling approximately 1,400 flights and 140,000 passengers per day plus 107,000 pieces of luggage. The 679,924 square foot copper-roofed domestic building sports 96 check-in counters, 12 boarding bridges plus 9 bus gates on the departures floor and 5 baggage carousels on arrivals, while the 3,086,867 square foot international building has a total of 224 check-in counters divided into seven “islands,” 100 passport control counters and 110 security gates, plus 26 boarding bridges and 17 bus gates on departures level with 11 carousels on arrivals.
The 2000-vintage international terminal has been judged by the Turkish Chamber of Civil Engineers, “One of the Fifty Architectural Wonders of Turkey.” It also gained many accolades; the most recent being named “2013 Airport of the Year” at the Air Transport News Awards ceremony and “Europe’s Best Airport” in the 40-50 million ppa category at the 2013 Skytrax World Airports Awards. Passengers and their luggage have to pass x-ray machines at the entrance before proceeding to the impressive check-in area with its high-vaulted, steel-glass roof. Two different passport and security control areas separate departing passengers in two flows, avoiding long queues even at peak times. Thereafter, travelers find themselves in front of the 81,657 square foot shopping mall, with its 28 stores and three different duty-free areas offering a total of over 100 brands and 50,000 products. A shop in its own class is the Old Bazaar, built to resemble a souk and offering traditional Turkish products (wines, cheese, sweets, and hand-crafted goods). TAV estimates that a total of 482 tons of lokum (traditional jelly sweets) are sold at the airport stores each month.
Dining opportunities include the ever-present fast foods such as Burger King, Sbarro, and Starbucks situated in a food court. It also features restaurants like The Greenport and Kitchenette, offering international cuisine plus the English-style pub, Efes Beerport, where visitors enjoy salads, sandwiches and the renowned Turkish beer, Efes; Cakes and Bakes bakery;cafeterias like Caffè Nero, Cafè-Inn, and Zero Cafè. The kiosks of Simit Sarayi, offers traditional Turkish pastries and desserts. At arrivals (ground) floor, eating opportunities are limited, but compulsive shoppers will find three more duty-free stores. Leaving behind the chaos of the shopping area, passengers finally reach the relative quiet of the boarding concourse, which is probably the most beautiful part of the terminal, with its ample seating and the enormous windows that let in plenty of natural light offering exceptional views of the ramp action.
First Class Terminal
Justifying the prizes gained through the years, IST has a wide variety of treats for high-profile travelers: a total of nine lounges are available for premium passengers. Situated on two floors, Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge is the largest with a surface of 63,510 ft² (5,900 m²). Refurbished at the beginning of 2014, it offers a wide variety of food and beverages, shower rooms, computers and printers, conference rooms, a library, a massage room, a mosque, a playroom for children, billiards and a golf simulator. Skyteam carriers and Emirates have their VIP rooms in the eastern part of the boarding concourse, where their aircraft regularly dock. Millennium Lounge is open to First and Business Class travelers of a number of airlines including Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, Iberia, Royal Jordanian, Iran Air, Air Algérie and Royal Air Maroc. Other lounges, like Akbank Wings, TTnet Platin, Comfort Lounge and HSBC Lounge are reserved for clients of banks and internet companies holding gold or platinum credit cards or high-rate contracts. Last, Primeclass Lounge is used by British Airways passengers and those who acquire Primeclass CIP service—for $153 (€124) on departure, or $142 (€114) on arrival, the service guarantees greeting by a hostess and a porter at the international terminal departures (or arrivals) floor, exclusive security check point, check-in transactions (or baggage retrieval) in the company of a hostess, fast-track passport control, assistance and privileged payment point at duty-free, and transportation to the flight gate (or from the flight gate to the passport controls counters) in special terminal vehicles. For $75 (€60) more, Turkish airlines passengers can have a personalized vehicle take them to the terminal when their aircraft parks at the apron.
During the last ten years, IST has become one of the largest connecting airports in Europe, with 25% of travelers continuing their journey beyond the Turkish capital. After landing, some of them spend less than an hour at Ataturk before boarding another plane, while others have to wait for hours or spend the entire night on the ground. After the dinner hour, it is common to see single passengers or entire families sleeping on the gate seats or even on the floor while waiting for their morning-after flight. But many (more fortunate) others prefer to take a nap or spend the night at the TAV Airport Hotel, located right in the international terminal building. The 128-room, four-star facility has two different entrances: passengers who need a room for a few hours access it directly through the entrance situated in the boarding area of the terminal; those staying for the night have to clear customs, exit the terminal and reach the main entrance of the hotel with a complimentary shuttle bus. Aviation enthusiasts transiting in IST cannot miss a drink at the bar or a meal at the restaurant of the hotel, located at ground floor, only a window separates patrons from the apron, granting a privileged view of the action on the ramp.
Airlines and Destinations
For decades, Turkey was a country that people had to leave (mainly for Germany) in search of an occupation and a better life. But, more recently, the country boasts one of the fastest-developing economies of the world with the Gross National Product having grown from $196 billion in 2001, to $820 billion in 2013, thus attracting migrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and former USSR provinces. Not surprisingly, almost half the carriers (28 of 64) that currently serve IST year-round come from these areas: Adria Airways (from Ljubljana), Aeroflot (Moscow), Air Astana (Almaty, Astana, Atyrau, Aktau), Air Bishkek (Bishkek), Air Moldova (Chisinău), Air Serbia (Belgrade), Ariana Afghan Airlines (Kabul), Azerbaijan Airlines (Baku), B&H Airlines (Sarajevo), Belavia (Minsk), Caspian Airlines (Tehran), Dniproavia (Dnipropetrovsk), Iran Air (Tehran Tabriz), Iraqi Airways (Baghdad, Basra, Erbil), Lot Polish (Warsaw), Mahan Air (Isfahan, Tehran), Meraj Airlines (Tehran, Mashad), Middle East Airlines (Beirut), Qeshm Airlines (Tehran), Somon Air (Dushanbe), Tajik Air (Dushanbe), Tarom (Bucarest), Transaero (Moscow), Turkmenistan Airlines (Ashgabat, Turkmenbashi), Ukraine International Airlines (Kiev), Uzbekistan Airlines (Tashkent), Yakutia Airlines (Krasnodar) and Zagros Airlines (Tehran, Erbil).
Long-range operators include Air Canada (B767-300 to Toronto), Asiana Airlines (B777-200 to Seoul Incheon), Korean Air (B777-200 to Seoul Incheon), Malaysia Airlines (B777-200 to Kuala Lumpur), and Singapore Airlines (B777-200 to Singapore). In the summer of 2014, Delta Airlines had a B767-300 daily service to JFK (a service that still has to be confirmed for 2015), while United Airlines codeshares with Star Alliance companion Turkish Airlines on all the TK services to the US, including New York (JFK), Boston, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (starting April 2015). With approximately 70% of total traffic, the Turkish flag carrier is absolutely the dominant carrier at IST, from where it flies to 220 international plus 38 domestic destinations. Between the end of 2014, and the beginning of 2015, it added Bamako, Conakry and San Francisco. New routes expected to be operational within 2016, include Bogota, Caracas, Havana, Mexico City, and Manila.
Coping with Growth
To cope with the overwhelming growth of traffic volume, DHMI and TAV are working without rest. In February 2010, Runway 05/23 was closed four months to allow complete resurfacing and construction of two more taxiway exits (for a total of five) enabling landing aircraft to clear the runway quicker and allowing a 10% increase in hourly movements from 40 to 45. Also, the ILS category was raised to CAT III. A plan to build a second runway parallel to 05/23 has often been discussed, but finally DHMI chose to use the area to build a new apron inaugurated on November 13, 2014, with 26 additional aircraft parking. The work going on between the terminal area and the same runway will add 24 more parking positions, for a total of 152 ready within the first half of 2015. TAV, on its own side, announced on November 17, 2014 a new agreement with DHMI to expand the terminal area 290,635 square feet, adding eight more boarding bridges, using the space on the eastern side of the building occupied by a former cargo area. A new luggage facility and early baggage storage facility will be realized for the increasing transit passengers of Turkish Airlines, and a new check-in “island” will be built inside the terminal. Outside, the car park will be expanded 182,990 square feet. The investment will be around $93 million (€81 million) with works planned to be completed in 16 months. All revenues resulting from the commercial areas and advertisement areas within the agreement will belong to TAV. The revenues gained from the new car park will be shared with DHMI. “Ataturk airport has become one of the most important of the world and TAV has had a significant share in this achievement, beside DHMI and Turkish Airlines. In the next six years, we will continue our investments without compromising service quality and passenger comfort,” said TAV Airport’s President and CEO, Sani Sener, at the presentation of the agreement.
TAV has the right to manage Ataturk Airport until 2021, and will be its last operator, since IST is set to close forever when the Istanbul New Airport becomes operational by the end of 2017. On August 13, 2012, the Turkish government approved the location of an entirely new airport in Istanbul to be built in the district of Arnavutköy, north of the European side of the city and near the Black Sea.
The construction area extends for a total of 824,434,876 square feet (76,590,000 m²), the majority being State-owned forestland and old, open-coal mines. On May 3, 2013, the Turkish joint-venture consortium of Cengiz-Mapa-Limak-Kolin-Kalyon (that founded SPV-İGA Havalimanı İsletmesi A.S. on October, 7), won the tender for Istanbul’s new airport, and is obliged to pay the government $27.69 billion (€22.15 billion) for a 25-year lease starting in 2017. The foundation stone was laid by then-current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Completion of the construction’s first stage (of five) is set for 2017, with a main terminal capable of 90 million passenger per year, indoor parking with 25,000 vehicles capacity, three independent runways, approximately 43,000,000 square feet of apron and one ATC tower. A second terminal will be built when Terminal 1 reaches 80 million passengers, and a satellite terminal will follow to meet further demand. At final stage, the $12.75 billion (€10,2 billion) project will include six runways, three terminal buildings with 181 boarding bridges for a total floor area of 16,000,000 square feet and a 150,000,000 passenger capacity. The challenge to the European and Gulf Countries hubs is open. Modern Turkey has the ambition and the financial resources to compete, thus perpetuating the role of Istanbul as a bridge between East and West.
Editor’s note: What are the benefits of subscribing to our weekly newsletter? You’ll get a summary of our top stories of the week, along with our exclusive Weekend Reads column and a Photo of the Week from the extensive AirwaysNews archives. The newsletter comes out every Saturday morning. Click here to subscribe today!
Contact the editor at email@example.com