Flight diversions a worrying sign for new Istanbul airport, experts say

The giant third airport in Istanbul has always been a controversial project, with warnings raised the beginning of the construction’s massive environmental impact and serious doubts about its economic viability.

Since the full opening in April, a series of diverted flights have raised fears that the airport is up against wholly foreseeable but completely insurmountable problems that have doomed the project from the start.

Earlier this week, flights to Istanbul from Berlin, Basel, Riga, Göteborg, Bremen, Marseille, Edremit, and Elazığ were forced to land in Çorlu, 60 miles west of the new Istanbul airport, after weather conditions made landing at their original destination impossible.

This came as little surprise to the aviation experts who have been warning since the project was conceived that the location chosen for the new airport lacked cover from the northerly winds blowing in from the Black Sea, and would also make it susceptible to disruptions caused by cloud and fog.

These problems are only likely to get worse, experienced figures from Turkey’s aviation sector told Ahval.

Weather conditions that have already caused a slew of disruptions since the airport opened on April 6 will only get worse once the cold winds of winter start to blow, said former pilot Bahadır Altan.

This, the pilot said, could explain why the full opening of the airport was delayed until April, after only a partial opening took place on the scheduled day in October last year.

The disruptions, Altan said, are already bound to be costly for airlines, which will have to fork out huge amounts for extra fuel.

Since the previous airport that operated on Istanbul’s European side has been taken out of operation and the other airport, Sabiha Gökçen, is not suitably located to take traffic that is unable to land on the new Istanbul Airport, the planes will have to spend extra time in the air even if they are able to make Çorum. This, Altan said, will add up to a great expense over the course of a year.

Meanwhile, passengers who have connecting flights departing from Istanbul will have difficulty reaching them from Çorlu, amounting to another major drawback.

“The people of Istanbul should take all this into account at the next elections”, Altan said, referring to the Istanbul mayoral poll rerun on June 23.

The problems were, after all, forewarned in a 2014 report by the Istanbul Chamber of Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), which set out the severe disruptions the airport’s location could cause.

The report stated that the site experienced storms on 107 days of the year and 65 days of intense cloud cover, and thanks, to its position facing the Black Sea to the north, had little cover from northerly winds.

These were serious warning signs for an airport that aims to accommodate 150 million passengers a year, and the TMMOB recommended a five-year study to measure the meteorological factors and the possible risks brought on by climate change before giving construction the green light.

Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government did not follow this advice.

 “The airport’s already been built, despite all the warnings, and since there’s no chance of moving the airport we now need to focus on solutions”, TMMOB member and meteorologist Orhan Şen told Ahval.

These could involve employing methods already in use in aviation to reduce the effects of fog and clouds, he said. But there is nothing that can be done about the wind.

“You might not be able to land on two runways (in windy conditions) so you land on another. But it’ll always cause delays ... We said from a meteorological perspective this wasn’t a good site, but they built it anyway”, said Şen.

Serious doubts were also raised about the site’s location when the project’s environmental impact report was published. Northern Forest Defence, an association that has opposed the new airport project on environmental grounds, objected at the time its environmental impact report was published about its haphazard nature.

At the time, the association pointed out that the second report had been written unscientifically in a way that appeared to have played down topographical features that could prove problematic for the airport. The lakes described in the first report were in the second called “water accumulation”.

The association made numerous warnings about the choice of location, but these went unheeded, Northern Forest Defence member Mustafa Tepret told Ahval.

"It isn’t a good thing to have been proven right. We’ve launched action to close the airport and rehabilitate the forest that was destroyed to build it, and the process is ongoing”, he said.

With all these problems, the new airport could well turn out to be a headache for millions of the travellers slated to travel through it over the next year, said Pelin Cengiz, a journalist who has covered the project for years.

And, with the potential for hundreds of flights to be cancelled due to these problems, the move to the airport could prove extremely costly, she said. Since the treasury has guaranteed income for the government-linked contractors that will operate the airport, that cost will ultimately be paid by the citizens of Turkey.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

© Ahval English

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.
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