The flagship airport of Turkey: Istanbul Airport

Turkey, the Land of the Crescent Moon, is one of the world’s most popular destinations attracting millions of passengers annually. It is home to spectacular beaches, world-renowned structures like Hagia Sophia, and highly varied landscapes. Istanbul, the cultural and historic capital of Turkey, oozes travelers with its multicultural texture, breathtaking views, amazing landmarks, and unique geography spread over two continents.

As the city is the center of almost all flights across the country, the airports in Istanbul play a crucial role in the transportation of travelers. Istanbul Airport is Turkey’s new flagship international airport, strengthening its commercial and tourist potential. The swanky modern airport is the most important global hub and the world’s new gateway into Turkey’s glorious history, striking landscapes, and rich cultural influences.

Turkish airlines: Photo from

Airports in Istanbul

Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gokchen Airport are two international airports in Istanbul located on the European side and the Asian side of the city, respectively. Sabiha Gökçen International Airport is the second-largest commercial airport in Turkey, serving the Asian side of the bi-continental Istanbul, and it handles over 20 million passenger traffic every year.

However, Istanbul Airport takes the spotlight as the main international airport in Turkey, and it is undoubtedly one of the world’s largest facilities of its kind. Situated 35km north of Istanbul and nestling on the edge of the Black Sea, Istanbul Airport is the country’s new center of aviation that currently handles the highest number of passenger traffic in Europe. The new facility was put into service on 29 October 2018, and three years later, it became the second-busiest airport in the world, measured by international passenger traffic.

Also Read: Istanbul Airport; Turkish Airlines New Hub

Background of Istanbul Airport

Before Istanbul Airport commenced operations, Ataturk International Airport (opened: in 1953) in Istanbul used to be one of the world’s busiest airports, with 70 million annual passengers. Once an intercontinental passenger and cargo hub located near the city center, Ataturk International Airport soon became unable to meet Istanbul’s growing domestic and international air traffic demand. The increasing pressure led to the relocation of its commercial passenger flights to the newly constructed Istanbul Airport on 6 April 2019 and all freight operations on 5 February 2022.

Istanbul / Turkey – April 21, 2019; New Istanbul Airport Terminal. Third Istanbul Airport.

After Istanbul Ataturk Airport officially ceased operations and transferred commercial passenger functions to Istanbul Airport in April 2019, the newly constructed airport soon became one of the busiest airports in the world. In 2021, the airport served 37,176,509 passengers (including 10,590,203 domestic and 26,586,306 international traffic), becoming Europe’s busiest and second-busiest airport in the globe below Dubai International Airport. Even during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it was the most visited airport in Europe with 23.4 million passengers, followed by London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle. It was deemed worthy of many international certificates during the period.

The strategic geographical position of Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport leaps benefit from its strategic location at the crossroads of two continents, which is why it has rapidly emerged as the world’s meeting point. The geographical location of Istanbul Airport has positioned Istanbul as the heart of international aviation, making it possible to reach 141 destinations in Europe, Asia, and Africa in less than 3 hours. The move to Istanbul Airport is a significant aviation milestone for Turkey as the new facility acts as an attractive transfer hub for flights between the US, Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and North India.

Istanbul Airport bolsters Istanbul, the intersection of Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, and a center of vast geography from the East to the West. Istanbul Airport utilizes its prudent location astride Europe and Asia to become one of the world’s most prominent flight and transfer hubs. The new airport in Istanbul is the fastest-growing aviation hub in Europe, competing directly with the current hub airports in the Middle East, including Dubai International Airport, UAE, and Hamad International Airport, Qatar. The airport connects the vast bulk of passengers over Istanbul to nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Facilities at Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport has one terminal in service for domestic and international operations at present with a total of five concourses A, B, D, F, and G. There are five operational runways (three independent and two standby) with asphalt surfaces and can accommodate world’s biggest planes Airbus A380 and An-225 Mriya (it was destroyed in Russia-Ukraine war). Three independent runways significantly reduce landing times, takeoff times, and taxi times, especially in heavy traffic. They can accommodate more than 2800 flight movements, 80-120 aircraft movements per hour. Upon the completion of the construction phase of the airport, there will be six runways to carry out simultaneous operations and bring the world closer together.

The five concourses, A, B, D, F, and G, which serve as home to numerous airlines flying to and from the airport, have 143 passenger boarding bridges. Among them, F and G concourses are allocated for domestic flights.

Regarding passenger service, Istanbul Airport provides one-of-a-kind services with cutting-edge technologies such as e-passport gates, bespoke mobile apps, smart parking, smart security, smart translation services, etc. Likewise, this environment-friendly airport brings air travel experiences to a new level with expansive and diverse shopping and duty-free areas and a vast choice of food and beverage shops. There are art exhibitions, workshops, music performances, libraries, and museums around the terminal for cultural travelers with time on their hands.

The airport design is inspired by Istanbul’s emblematic Bosphorus strait, drawing on oriental and European building traditions. The multi-level exteriors give way to bright, spacious, and functional terminal halls with vaulted roofs with circular openings, providing travelers with an intuitively inviting experience.

Airlines operating at Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport hosts flight operations of more than 70 airlines linking Istanbul Airport to over 250 destinations across the world. It is the primary hub for the flagship carrier Turkish Airlines, allowing it to serve destinations non-stop from a single airport more than any other airline worldwide. The airport offers flight connectivity to Turkish Airlines’ extensive network in over 120 countries. Besides, the airport also operates regular scheduled and charter passenger flights for several mainline carriers such as Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Aeroflot, Air France, Air Serbia, Etihad Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, IndiGo, British Airways, etc.

Istanbul, Turkey – July 2019: Interior view of new Istanbul Airport with passengers walking and passing time until departure time, Turkey

In addition to passenger operations, Istanbul Airport is an attraction for air cargo transportation. The airport opened all-cargo services in February 2022 and acted as the hub for Turkish Cargo. Other cargo carriers offering their freight services to/from the new airport in Istanbul are Air Canada Cargo, Emirates SkyCargo, Lufthansa Cargo, FedEx Express, Hong Kong Air Cargo, Qatar Airways Cargo, UPS Airlines, etc.

Interesting facts about Istanbul Airport

  • Despite the flagship airport’s colossal size, its aviation history is relatively short, as its inauguration took place only on 29 October 2018.
  • The new airport in Istanbul is the largest infrastructure project in Turkey, set to become the world’s largest international airport upon completion in 2025, reaching an overall capacity to host 200 million passengers per year. The current main terminal, the largest of its kind operating under one roof, has an annual capacity of 90 million passengers. When all stages of construction are complete, Istanbul Airport will host six sets of runways, 16 taxiways, and four terminal buildings.
  • Istanbul Airport is an international travel mega-hub for Europe, Asia, and Africa, connecting all corners of the globe by serving a flight every minute to more than 350 destinations. The largest Turkish airport provides air connectivity to over 120 countries, 60+ capital cities, 250+ international and 50 domestic cities.
  • Istanbul Airport has changed the experience of traveling for passengers with its advanced technologies, sound infrastructure opportunities, and state-of-the-art facilities. The new mega airport in Istanbul continues to win the approval of international institutions for its outstanding capacity, remarkable architecture, and internationally-celebrated design, efficiency, advanced technologies, quality, and overall traveling experience. Promising maximum comfort to its visitors, the airport hosts many comfort and lounge areas, exhibition galleries, and even a spa.

Accolades won by Istanbul Airport

The new airport in Istanbul continues to excel in business which is evident by its entitlement to important awards in the international aviation arena. Despite having less than a decade-long history, it has managed to get a spot in the ‘world’s Top 10 International Airport’ by outperforming many airports worldwide. The fastest-growing Turkish airport is the recipient of several accolades, such as the Air Transport Research Society (ATRS) Award of Excellence, the Airports Council International Europe’s Best Airport Over 40 Million Passengers’, and the ‘Accessible Airport Award,’ Digital Transformation Award, etc.

The global transit hub in Turkey continues to knock down other airports in passenger numbers and aircraft movements each passing day.

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