After a series of delays, Turkish authorities have scheduled the full opening of the new Istanbul Airport for April 5-7, relocating operations from Atatürk International Airport over a period of 45 hours in what is being dubbed the ‘Great Move’ by stakeholders involved in the project. Starting on April 5 at 03:00 (local time) and ending on April 7 at 00:00 (local time), the changeover to Istanbul Airport will involve 1,800 staff and see approximately 10,000 pieces of equipment (equivalent to a 5,000-truck volume) moved by road between the two airports. To facilitate the transfer, both airports and nearby highways will be temporarily closed, likely causing delays and backlog which may last beyond April 7.
A new freight hub on the Black Sea
Istanbul Airport is one of Turkey’s biggest infrastructure projects and was conceived to expand its passenger and cargo handling capacity, which would allow the country to compete more effectively with flight hubs in the Middle East, specifically Dubai. According to estimations, the airport may have capacity to handle more than 180 million passengers by 2027, which would make it the world’s largest, measured against current airport operations globally. In terms of cargo handling capacity, Istanbul Airport, which sits 30 km (20 miles) north on the Black Sea shores, will have an initial capacity of 2.5 million tons, up from the current 1.2 million tons at Atatürk International Airport on the edge of the Sea of Marmara. This would rank Istanbul Airport among the top 10 of the busiest airports worldwide by cargo traffic.
Capacity could potentially scale up to 5.5 million tons once all four phases of construction are completed, allowing more than 30 wide-body freighters to park simultaneously. Construction of the new airport began in 2014, and the opening date was originally set for October 29, 2017. The airport was officially opened one year later, but the transfer of operations has since been delayed a number of times, allegedly due to a workers’ strike and contractors abandoning the project due to financing problems.
Both airports to be closed for 12 hours
To allow for the transfer of operations, Atatürk International Airport and Istanbul Airport will both close for passenger flights for a period of 12 hours between 02:00 and 14:00 (local time) on April 6, according to government sources. As of April 7, Atatürk International Airport will no longer serve commercial flights, but will continue to operate freighter flights from Turkish Airlines until the construction of all cargo facilities has been completed at Istanbul Airport.
During the rest of the transfer period, both airports will be operating with a common reduced capacity with 35 arrivals and 35 departures per hour. In addition, Istanbul Airport will have a reduced handling capacity from April 6 to April 20, with a restricted slot allocation for flights. Thus, the overall air cargo handling capacity will be reduced throughout this period and carriers may not accept cargo on some days during and after the move. Some of the main impacts on air cargo capacity due to carrier’s contingency plans are listed below:
- Imports to and exports from Istanbul on narrow-body aircrafts will be suspended between April 4 and 30;
- Freighter to freighter services will remain open throughout the transfer period;
- Lufthansa will not accept cargo for its passenger flights on April 4 and has canceled all of its freighter services on April 4 and 6;
- Turkish Airlines will not accept export cargo for wide-body aircrafts on April 4 and 5.
Delays and backlog may last until April 20
While the main transfer of operations will take place on April 5 and 6, customers should anticipate reduced air cargo capacity at Istanbul airports until at least April 20. Connection times for transit cargo should therefore be re-evaluated and contingency plans activated based on final destinations, i.e. in order to reroute time-sensitive or refrigerated shipments.
As highways around both airports will be closed for two days on April 5 and 6 to facilitate the transfer, no shipments can be delivered to airlines and carriers at either airport, or even between airports, during this period. This will likely lead to significant congestion at air cargo warehouses and impact on-time performance for shipments, even days after the initial transfer period. As the IST IATA code will be transferred from Atatürk International Airport to Istanbul Airport, customers should also anticipate potential issues with regards to wrongly addressed shipments. This may cause further delays in the future as reports indicate that customs offices at both these airports will not be interconnecting, i.e. customs officials cannot transfer the shipment to the other airport if received at the wrong location.