ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday inaugurated, what supporters have touted as the world’s largest airport, a sprawling complex of terminals and runways spread out across a set of former coal mines on a plot of land larger than New York’s Manhattan Island.
Mr Erdogan dubbed the new facility Istanbul Airport, ending months of speculation over its name which included rumours that he would allow it to be called after himself, according to media reports.
“Istanbul is not only our largest city,” he said before a massive crowd of dignitaries, officials, and journalists, gathered beneath the vaulted ceiling of the airport terminal, “It is our most important brand. It’s a beautiful jewel between two seas. It can be compared to the sun of this earth.”
One of the president’s favoured mega-projects, Erdogan says the 10.5 billion euros ($12 billion) project will make Istanbul a global travel hub linking Europe, Asia and Africa and turn flag carrier Turkish Airlines into an aviation giant.
By year’s end, the new airport will be able to handle up to 90 million passengers annually, ranking it in the world’s top five. This will rise to 200 million passengers when all facilities are completed in 2028, by which time it could well be number one.
In 2017, that title was held by Atlanta airport in the US, with just under 104 million passengers, according to Airport Council International (ACI) figures. Next came Beijing on 95.7 million passengers, Dubai 88.2 million, Tokyo 85.4 million and Los Angeles 84.5 million.
The airport is being built in the Arnavutkoy district on the European side of Istanbul.
It is the first completely new “greenfield” facility in Europe in nearly 20 years, the ACI says.
When all four construction phases are complete in 2028, the airport will have six runways and two terminal buildings, covering an area of 76 square kilometres, according to operator IGA.
The last totally new airport in Europe was Athens which entered service in 2001, preceded by Munich in 1992.
The International Air Transport Association says global air traffic is growing at an annual rate of 3.5 percent.
That means 4.1 billion passengers will take to the air this year, doubling to 8.2 billion by 2037.
Industry body IATA repeatedly warns that airports around the world will struggle to deal with this expansion, urging governments to make the necessary investment to keep up.
(With inputs from AFP)