Skift Take

The announcement of a new Istanbul with five runways and what it means to international connections must frighten an airport like, say, Heathrow, that's struggling to maintain its position with only two runways.

When news broke that Turkish Airlines was set to connect some 30 African destinations by the end of this year, moving to 40 by the end of 2013, many had to check back to be certain of the accuracy of the statement at the time, but the ongoing rollout into Africa has made this a reality, no longer just a plan.

Turkish now connects Entebbe, Kigali, Nairobi, and Dar es Salaam and has announced a new triangular flight from Istanbul to Kilimanjaro and Mombasa from mid-December onwards, making it top dog of foreign airlines offering connections to literally all East African destinations of substance, other than Bujumbura for which, according to a regular source, plans exist but no time frame has been announced yet.

Connecting in Istanbul to over 200 destinations, including an extensive domestic network, of course, and operating a fleet of nearly 200 state-of-the-art aircraft, Turkish has almost by stealth established itself as a truly global airline and is set to grow further yet. Only recently did THY’s CEO Dr. Kotil project the number of aircraft to grow to eventually some 400, not something, however, one would like to see operating via the airline’s current hub Istanbul Ataturk, aka IST, which is getting increasingly congested.

This limitation has been affecting the quality of ground handling and the comfort of transit passengers connecting there into the growing network of Turkish and would have a serious impact on passengers decisions when deciding if to fly with any of the Gulf carriers, operating in and out of spanking new hub airports, or building them, or using THY via Istanbul as an alternative.

News was, therefore, welcome when it was confirmed that a new state-of-the-art airport with an eventual capacity of 150 million passengers will be built outside of Istanbul, sporting up to 5 runways and being rolled out in 2 if not 3 phases. Phase one should be ready by 2016 already, catering for Turkish’s rapid expansion and being able to handle the growing volume on transit passengers, crucial to THY’s ambitious growth plans for passenger numbers, besides, of course, providing a state-of-the-art cargo processing center, too.

To be built in a public-private partnership, no final costs are available but could reach US$10 billion by 2023, when phase 2 of the new airport is projected to be ready. Istanbul’s present airports Ataturk and Sabiha Goekcen will also continue to operate but see long-haul traffic very likely to shift to the new facility when opening in 4 years’ time.

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