Istanbul Airport becomes Europe’s largest after Erdoğan opens third runway

Istanbul Airport became Europe’s largest after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened a third runway at the facility during a ceremony at the weekend.

Erdoğan, who flew in by helicopter, ordered three Turkish Airlines jets to simultaneously take off from the airport, located to the east of Turkey’s largest city.

The Boeing 787, Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 bore the flight numbers 1453, the year when the Ottomans captured Canstantinople, 1923 marking the declaration of the Turkish republic, and 2023, the country’s upcoming centenary, Forbes reported on Monday. The planes returned 20 minutes later, it said.

Turkey’s government tendered private firms to build the airport, which opened in late 2018 to much fanfare and cost around $12 billion. The facility, which is financed by the government via minimum passenger guarantees, would become the world’s largest should all construction phases be completed.

The airport is now Europe’s largest in terms of capacity for hourly take-offs and landings. It can handle more than 120 take-offs and landings per hour, compared with 120 at Paris Charles de Gaulle, Amsterdam Schiphol’s 112 and Frankfurt’s 106, Forbes said citing data from Eurocontrol.

But the facility has been underused, particularly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and after many passengers preferred to use the alternative Sabiha Gökçen airport on the Anatolian side of Istanbul. European governments have yet to recommend that travellers and holidaymakers fly to Turkey and are conducting reviews to ascertain whether it is now safe to do so.