Sabiha Gökçen’s new role as Istanbul’s ‘City Airport’

Bernie Baldwin

Europe’s fastest growing airport is developing fast, with big plans to double capacity.

A catchment of 22 million people within a two-hour drive and more than 150 destinations using single-aisle aircraft, as well as room for ample growth. There cannot be many – if any – airports with figures such as those.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport (SAW) is Europe’s fastest growing airport – having achieved 538% passenger growth between 2009 and 2019 – with major developments still coming on line. It’s the world’s busiest, single-runway, single-terminal airport, but won’t hold that title for long. “The second runway should open this year, then there will be a new terminal, helping us double capacity,” declares Gerald Ong, aviation marketing director.

To begin to fill that capacity and add to the 2019 traffic result of 35.5 million passengers, new routes are on the way, according to Ong. “There is Abu Dhabi and Helsinki,” he confirms, adding that the airport expects to benefit from connectivity through the Finnish capital, an important hub for flights to Asian destinations. Like any airport seeking destinations, SAW has its top target markets. “We began with those in narrowbody range and in doing so have grown into the Middle East as well as central and eastern Europe (CEE) and the CIS,” Ong recalls. “Now we see potential in western Europe, particularly the UK and Germany. We believe we can double the number of destinations.”

Since the new Istanbul Airport replaced Ataturk Airport, Sabiha Gökçen Airport is the closest airport to the centre of Turkey’s capital and is indeed marketing itself as the “City Airport”. Ong and his team aim to capture more business passengers because of this.

Road traffic in Istanbul, however, can be very heavy for a significant portion of the day, so good public transport will help get travellers to SAW a lot quicker. At present, the airport is a 15-minute bus ride from the closest Metro station. “In June 2021, though, we will have our own station, although as it is a stopping service it will still be one hour to the downtown,” Ong confirms.

Following this, however, there are plans for a new line which will run from SAW, through the city centre and on to IST. It will cut the transfer time considerably. “The new bridge to take those trains is already in place,” says Ong.

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