World’s biggest airport opens for business in Istanbul

The world’s biggest airport has opened in Istanbul after months of delays and protests over construction workers’ deaths. The airport is expected to carry more than 200 million passengers a year when it opens fully, two and a half times as many as Heathrow.

It is a key project for President Erdogan, who has overseen a huge construction and infrastructure boom in the 16 years that he has ruled Turkey. Covering an area of 30 square miles close to the Black Sea coast 20 miles north of Istanbul, it replaces the ageing and overcrowded Ataturk airport, close to the city’s historic centre, which will be turned into a public park. Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, moved its entire fleet to the new airport in a 48-hour operation that began on Friday.

Tens of thousands of pieces of equipment were also moved between the two airports in the largest move in civil aviation history. The first flights landed and left the airport yesterday. Ilker Ayci, chairman of Turkish Airlines, which is 49 per cent state owned, thanked “the originator behind the idea of this monumental project and its biggest supporter, our president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan” and hailed the opening as “a new adventure”. The airport was initially scheduled to open on October 29, Turkey’s Republic Day, which marks the founding of the modern nation in 1923, but construction was delayed because of protests over conditions by workers and soaring costs.

The consortium that is building it had to take out an extra $1.2 billion loan last May. (By Hannah Lucinda Smith)

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