Istanbul IST now Europe’s busiest airport; dominant Turkish Airlines serving over 220 destinations
The need for a new airport in Istanbul was driven by the phenomenal growth at Istanbul Atatürk Airport which saw traffic grow from just over 12 million passengers in 2003 to over 50 million just 10 years later. Construction began on the new airport, located around 35 kilometres northwest of central Istanbul, in 2015.
When the new airport fully opened in April 2019 (taking over all flights from the old airport) it ranked as Europe’s fifth busiest airport, after London LHR, Paris CDG, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. By the end of 2019 the facility was handling the equivalent of almost 70 million passengers per annum.
Europe’s busiest airport for most of the last year
When the pandemic struck last spring, the airport saw virtually no traffic for well over two months. However, by August it was handling almost two million passengers per month, making it Europe’s fourth busiest airport after Moscow DME, Moscow SVO and Paris CDG. Two months later, it had become Europe’s busiest airport for the first time, handling 1.93 million passengers. Since then, it has been Europe’s busiest airport every month, except in May and June of this year, when first Moscow DME and then Moscow SVO topped the rankings.
Turkish Airlines accounts for 80% of flights
Not surprisingly, the local flag-carrier, Turkish Airlines, is the dominant airline at the airport accounting for 80% of all flights (and seats) in November, according to Cirium Data and Analytics schedules. While Turkish Airlines is operating almost 2,400 weekly departures from the airport, the next busiest airline is Russia’s Nordwind Airlines with just 37, followed by Aeroflot’s low-cost subsidiary Pobeda with 29. In terms of seats offered, Emirates ranks second ahead of the two Russian carriers.
Turkish Airlines is currently offering non-stop flights to 229 destinations around the world, of which 42 are in Turkey. Prior to the pandemic it was over 260 destinations. In addition, a number of other long-haul destinations are served via an intermediate stop, often as part of a triangle routing. This year has seen the Star Alliance member start new routes to Vancouver (2 May), New York EWR (21 May), Fergana in Uzbekistan (8 June) and Dallas/Fort Worth (21 September).
US is #1 market by ASKs
The massive domestic market leads the way for flights and seat capacity, but when measured by ASKs, which also takes into account sector length, the US market leads the way, well clear of the domestic market. Turkish Airlines is currently serving 11 US airports with non-stop flights. It faces no direct competition on any of these routes as no US carrier serves Istanbul at present.
While the leading country markets feature some of Europe’s biggest air travel markets (shown in blue), the list also includes some less obvious markets such as Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand and Uzbekistan. In total over 100 countries are served by non-stop flights from Istanbul IST this winter.
Several new airlines welcomed post-pandemic
Despite the pandemic, the airport has continued to attract new carriers in the last 20 months. This includes Ukraine’s SkyUp Airlines which began service from Kiev in September 2020 and then added service from four other Ukrainian airports, although some routes have since been suspended.
Air Arabia returned to the airport after well over a decade away with flights from Sharjah, while flydubai began daily service from Dubai in May, thus increasing options for travellers coming from, or going to, the Middle East. Between now and the end of the year, Istanbul IST will welcome at least one more new destination to its network. Air Arabia Maroc plans to start a weekly service from its base in Fez on Saturday 20 November. Turkish Airlines already serves Casablanca and Marrakech in Morocco with daily flights, but not Fez.