Q&A: Istanbul New Airport CEO Kadri Samsunlu

posted on 25th May 2018 by Justin Burns
Q&A: Istanbul New Airport CEO Kadri Samsunlu

Istanbul New Airport (INA) will open later this year and the new ($11 billion) Turkish airport will be one of the world’s ‘megahubs’ when all phases of the development are completed.

When all the phases of the project are finished, the new airport will have six runways spread over 7,594 hectares, and the airport will have capacity to serve 90 million passengers a year expandable to up to 200 million passengers.

The operator is İGA Airport Operation and ARGS spoke to the new chief executive officer, Kadri Samsunlu (pictured above) about how the project is going.

Is INA on target to open in October this year?

The airport will be in operation on 29 October which is the commemoration of the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. We are on a good track and our schedule is working perfectly – currently 35,000 people are working for achieving this goal. We have just a bit over than five months and we are very excited to present this airport to our country on its 95th anniversary of Turkey.

How many passengers are you targeting in the first year of operations?

 With the end of the first phase, our new hub will be able to handle 90 million passengers annually and will be serving 60 airlines. It will feature three parallel runways, a terminal and air traffic control tower among its infrastructure.

Last year Atatürk Airport served around 64 million passengers annually. I am sure that we will reach more than 70 million passengers at the end of 2018 and hit 90 million passengers in the year 2021.

How much of the development is complete?

89 per cent of the construction for Istanbul’s New Airport (INA) has been completed. We are very close to finalising the terminal building. More than 550 elevators, escalators and moving walkways are placed. Installation of 143 passenger boarding bridges and 13 check-in islands are about to be completed. We’ve been completing structural works for the Air Traffic Control Tower. Besides, we have finished the asphalt layers of 3,750-metres long and 60-metre wide first runway and its connected taxiways. This is just a spotlight on what we already achieved. We are very proud of the progress we have made and how we manage to realise all the tasks that come up within such a mega project in a short span of time.

What is left to finish on the project in terms of construction?

On the construction site of such a mega-project, there are a lot of tasks being performed at the same time. Right now we are working on the facade and roof cladding of the terminal building. Awarded with its design many times, the Air Traffic Control tower is currently underway. The earthworks for the 4,100-metre long and 60-metre wide second runway and its connected taxi roads is proceeding.

When will the building of the 2nd and 3rd runways be complete and open?

The first runway which is 3,750m long and 60m wide has been finished in February, 2018 and is now ready for take-off and landing. Currently we are working for the second runway, which is about to finish. The third runway will be completed 16 months after the grand opening.

Are there are any new developments in terms of new airlines and handlers?

We are going to host around 60 airlines and three handling companies in the first year of operation. In addition to these, we are negotiating with the long-haul carriers and airlines that stop their flights previously or has never flown to Turkey before.

Once the airport is in operation, it will have a capacity of 90 million passengers yearly. This capacity is expandable to up to 200 million passengers. Heathrow serves 78 million passengers at the moment.

The airport is a mega project that will connect countries in terms of commerce, tourism and travel. Therefore I believe, more and more airlines and handlers you will see in INA, in time.

What baggage system was used and how important is this to the development?

The question of baggage management is one of the core fields, where technology has a huge impact on efficiency and passenger experience at the same time. It does not matter whether you are building the largest or most technologic airport in the world, and efficient, fleeting and problem-free baggage handling system is always playing a crucial role to please the passengers and get them to fly to or from this airport.

Even the biggest airports in the world have a potential for bags being mishandled. Therefore, to avoid any baggage related inconvenience, we have worked hard to achieve highest standards baggage handling system. With the 42 kilometres long baggage handling system, we will minimize the waiting period and ensure uninterrupted passenger experience which is the largest single-phase system of its kind.

We appointed SITA to implement its innovative baggage tracking solution, allowing airlines to meet IATA Resolution 753’s baggage tracking requirements from day one. Having the right technology will be essential to the successful operation of our airport. And as we are building a complete new airport. It is out of question that we orientate on future-proofing technologies – and trust in our partners from SITA.

Responsible for the supply of the entire baggage handling system at Istanbul New Airport is Vanderlande Industries, the global leader in the baggage handling market. The systems and integrated solutions of the Netherlands based company operate at about 600 airports worldwide, including many of the top 20 hubs by passenger volume.

On the whole airport technical innovations and state of the art technologies are used to enhance passenger experience and reduce stress levels. Baggage sorting and stocking will be made by smart devices operating with 170 special microprocessors, which allow to handle 30,000 baggage items per hour. Automated processes and the integration of robot technology are a hallmark of the system. 12.000 independent carriers transport the luggage from one location to the next.

Individual carrier system (ICS) is used to transport bags in carriers at high speed for long distances. This technology allows us full tracking of bags, smart energy usage with green principles, robust and reliable system solutions. Also it provides silent, safe and maintenance friendly environment. The system is flexible enough to increase the capacity for the future requirements.

Crane base BAGSTORE system is used for early bag storage. This system provides us proven automatic bag storage and retrieval solution, making racking cranes with 100 per cent redundancy. It also allows a bag to be retrieved individually according to priority. This technology maximises flexibility and system control. The system is designed in modular form so that it is so easy to increase the storage capacity when required in the future.

What have been the biggest challenges to date?

Building the largest airport from scratch in the world in 42 months of itself is the biggest challenge. With the great vision of Turkish Government, a huge area of 76.5 million square metres has been allocated for Istanbul New Airport project. This area was formerly used for mining activities, causing unexpected great geotechnical engineering challenges to be achieved prior to airport construction. To overcome this challenge, we have conducted comprehensive soil investigation, soil improvement, excavation and filling works in parallel to the construction works in a very short period.

As of April 2018, more than 640 million cubic metres of excavation and more than 250 million cubic metres of filling works have been carried out. Only these figures may give an idea about the greatness of the work done.

Furthermore, we have been applying a BIM model which allows us to do design and construction at the same time as well as airport management deals. We are in conversation with worldwide brands for creating a unique passenger experience. There is much work in this airport, especially when it’s done simultaneously, we believe with this characteristics, it is going to set an example to the world’s airports.

How will the airport boost both the tourism in Turkey?

Istanbul New Airport is located in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Istanbul, where different cultures merge and tradition meets modern lifestyle and technology. Culturally, the city has been always a meeting point while it is geographically a natural bridge between East and West. Istanbul is also one of the top ten most visited cities in the world, according to Mastercard 2017 Global Destination Cities Index.

On top of that, Turkey is a four-season country, has historical and cultural assets which constitutes an enormous potential and creates the infinite diversity of tourist resources. Now, we are bringing a new airport which will gather more people across the world. Istanbul New Airport will become a natural intersection to the world routes. It will put Turkey in the heart of global aviation with its strategic ideal position as a hub.

The city aims to be the most important air travel centre over an area spanning from New York to Shanghai. According to research done by ForwardKeys, a Spanish tourism consulter, Istanbul was ranked third in terms of total departing passenger numbers in Q1 2018, in good company with Heathrow and Frankfurt.

There are more than 300 destinations in Europe, MENA and Central Asia, which Turkish Airlines and other airlines serve. Global numbers in air transportation will support these facts as ICAO announced in January 2018, that the passenger traffic rose 7.1% in 2017 over 2016. The number of departures rose to approximately 37 million globally, and world passenger traffic, in terms of total scheduled revenue passenger-kilometres (RPKs), increased 7.6% with approximately 7.7 trillion RPKs performed. When we look beyond, the forecasts are very promising. The new airport will increase these numbers and will also accelerate the growth of the country’s flag carrier, Turkish Airlines which flies to most of the countries in the world.

What will be happening to Istanbul Ataturk Airport once INA opens?

On 29 October, the “big bang” will happen – all scheduled flights to and from Istanbul Atatürk Airport (pictured left) will be delivered to Istanbul New Airport. Many passengers will take off in Atatürk, but when they are returning to the city, they will land at the new airport. So, Atatürk Airport will be closed to commercial flights once the new airport starts its operations. Only private jets will continue to use Atatürk Airport.

Will there be a phased approach to operations being switched between the two airports?

The closing of Atatürk Airport and opening of INA will be the world’s largest airport transfer to date. For the first time in history, an airport with a capacity of around 70 million passengers will be transferred in its entirety 45 kilometres away. This needs detailed planning. For the successful opening of the world’s biggest greenfield airport, we have established an ORAT (Operational Readiness and Airport Transfer) project.

ORAT is a best-practice methodology used world-wide for the testing and opening of new airports. It comprises the preparation of the airport operator and stakeholders to be ready for the operation of the new airport (Readiness), a detailed familiarization program for all future airport employees, the planning and execution of technical, operational and system trainings and, finally, a comprehensive trial program.

The trial program consists of more than 150 different simulations of real airport situations. Staff, procedures and systems will be tested like under real operational conditions in order to guarantee a smooth and successful opening on October 29th. Apart from the activities at the new airport site, a dedicated team is planning the transfer of all equipment and flights from the current airport to the new one.

This month ORAT team will start with operational trials in the terminal building together with airlines and stakeholders. Until October more than 150 different scenarios will be simulated, to guarantee the readiness of the airport and its stakeholders for the successful opening. The transfer of Atatürk Airport to Istanbul New Airport in October 2018, will be the world’s biggest airport transfer ever conducted in a single night and this is exactly why we call it big bang.

Are you holding an event to mark the opening of INA?

Our opening ceremony will be held on 29 October with the participation of high-level, foreign government officials and guests around the globe. We have already started with preparations for our grand opening ceremony months ago. We are literally planning to break a new ground of the new form of civil aviation with our opening.

Has a name been decided yet or will it just be called INA?

Istanbul New Airport is a BOT (built-operate-transfer) project, which means that İGA will built and operate the project for 25 years and hand it over to Turkish government after 25 years. That is why Turkish government will decide the name, not İGA as the builder and operator.