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Turkey's Erdogan opens new Istanbul airport

Turkish Presidential Press Service, AFP | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (front R) his wife Emine Erdogan (front L) at the opening of the Istanbul New Airport, October 29, 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inaugurated Istanbul’s new international airport, which his government says will eventually become the world’s largest, with great fanfare on Monday.

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Erdogan has championed the €10.5 billion project in his bid to make Istanbul a global travel hub linking Europe, Asia and Africa and turn flag carrier Turkish Airlines into an aviation giant.

The airport, one of a number of mega-projects under Erdogan’s rule, was initially scheduled to fully open on Monday but construction has been marred by delays and a workers’ strike over poor conditions.

“I hope that Istanbul Airport will benefit our region and the world,” Erdogan said at the lavish opening ceremony attended by numerous world leaders including Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The inauguration is largely symbolic as the airport will not be fully open until the end of the year.

However the airport will only offer flights to five destinations until an expanded opening on December 29, from when it is expected to handle up to 90 million passengers a year, rising to 200 million when all facilities are completed in 2028.

This would be nearly double the number of passengers moving through the world’s current busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in the US city of Atlanta.

The first flight from the as-yet unnamed airport will be to Ankara on Thursday.

The inauguration for the new facility, which will replace Istanbul’s ageing Ataturk Airport, takes place on the 95th anniversary of modern Turkey’s founding by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

However the president, who has been accused by secularists of undermining Ataturk’s legacy, has indicated he would prefer not to have the new airport named after the founder.

Many observers predict Erdogan, who often references the Ottoman Empire, will instead name it after an Ottoman-era sultan such as Abdulhamid II. Some supporters have even argued it should carry Erdogan’s name.

The two-month period after Monday’s “soft opening” will be used to identify “where we need to work a bit more”, Kadri Samsunlu, director general of the Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA), told foreign media visiting the site on Thursday.

The “entire business” at Ataturk including planes and equipment will be moved to the new airport over a 45-hour period after the “hard opening” at the end of the year, Samsunlu added.

Authorities say a metro line will be built to link the airport, which is near the Black Sea coast on the European side of Istanbul, to the city centre 35 kilometres away.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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