Istanbul's giant new airport, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes will make the city a global air traffic hub, is 85% finished and will open on time this year, the transport minister said Friday.
Much of the airport still resembles a construction site with skeletal unfinished buildings still in evidence but Turkey is confident that the building is on schedule.
Trucks and bulldozers still criss cross the site of the $10b project, leaving waves of dust in their wake, said an AFP correspondent who was given a rare glimpse on a tour for foreign journalists.
"The airport will open on October 29. The completion rate by the end of March was at around 85%," Transport Minister Ahmet Arslan told reporters at the airport.
Arslan said that at 67.6 million square metres the airport would be the largest by size in the world.
There have been major concerns over reports of a high fatality rate at the airport's construction site.
Arslan emphasised there were some 35,000 people working there and over the course of construction 13 workers had died due to work related accidents and 14 for reasons not related to work.
The airport is targeting a capacity of 90 million passengers per year after opening but Arslan said it hopes that this will eventually rise to 250 million when all facilities are completed.
The new airport, which is 35 kilometres from the centre of Istanbul, is intended to entirely replace the existing Ataturk International Airport as the city's main hub.
Arslan played down concerns that the airport's location on the Black Sea was relatively remote, saying a new metro line was being built that would leave a journey from the centre of just 25 minutes.
Ataturk Airport is to be shut to commercial traffic once the new airport opens, the minister said.
"We will move all the equipment from Ataturk within 48 hours. Ataturk will close to commercial flights and will be mainly used by the civil aviation authority, private flights and VIPs," said Arslan
The name of the new airport has yet to be announced.
Ataturk airport had become one of Europe's busiest airports in recent years but is now at maximum capacity and unable to expand more at its congested urban site.
"Ataturk's yearly capacity is 60 million passengers but falls short of satisfying our needs," said Arslan.
"It's congested and many countries want to plan more flights to Ataturk but we are unable to answer their request and this is why a new airport is needed," he added.
The new airport will be the home of fast growing flag-carrier Turkish Airlines (THY), which is 49% owned by the government through a wealth fund.
THY passenger numbers have swelled from just 14 million in 2005 to 69 million in 2017.
In a sign of its ambitions ahead of the opening of the new airport, Turkish Airlines said in March it was planning to buy at least 50 wide-body aircraft from Airbus and Boeing up to 2024.For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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