In late October 2018 Turkey officially inaugurated the third international airport in Istanbul. The future-hub of the world’s largest airline by destinations number - Turkish Airlines - strives for the stars on all fronts: from massive amounts of passengers, airlines and aircraft it can accomodate, to luxurious and exclusive retail. All the glitter is gold?

Introducing: the biggest airport in the world

Istanbul Airport (ISL), dubbed Istanbul new airport, officially opened on October 29, 2018, with the first flights, operated by Turkish Airlines, following in a couple of days. However, the airport is expected to open for full (first-stage) capacity at the end of December 2018.

In the future, it will replace Atatürk International Airport, currently biggest in Turkey and biggest international airport serving Istanbul, which, in turn, is going to be closed. The new airport is to reportedly inherit Atatürk airport IATA code (IST).

Image: Istanbul Grand Airport 

The airport is opening up in several stages. Once fully operational in its current configuration, it will be able to serve 90 million passengers per year, using its two runways (3,750 and 4,100 meters in length), two terminals and various supporting facilities.

However, this capacity is just a fraction of what is yet to come as the following stages should see the airport expand to 150 million passengers capacity with an option for further enlargements to accomodate 200 million. Up to six runways are accounted in different sources as a goal of further stages.

Once completed to the 150 million passengers stage, it will become the world’s largest airport. In comparison, currently the largest airport serves approximately 100 million passengers per year. But ISL operator - Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA) - already introduces the facility as “the world's largest airport terminal under one roof”.

It is also already praised for glamour. For instance, Gülse Birsel writes in Hurriyet Daily News: “Istanbul Airport may also serve as a new center for shopping with well-known brands, including Louis Vuitton and Hermes”. Birsel explains that besides luxurious brands and modern retail concept, the airport is to wow passengers with products designed specifically for it, such as a blend of Scottish whiskey.

Deaths, protests & trials

While Istanbul’s new airport facade is sparkling bright, its bloodstained backstage is under fire.  

On December 5, 2018, Turkish courts began trials of 61 workers and trade unionists who were accused of obstruction while protesting working and living conditions while building Istanbul new airport. During the first hearing, the Gaziosmanpaşa Criminal Court of First Instance released 31 protesters who were jailed since mid-September, under judiciary control pending trial.

Image: Istanbul Grand Airport 

Their detention was previously harshly criticized by Amnesty International. “By detaining and prosecuting these workers who were simply calling for dignified and safe working conditions, the Turkish authorities are sending out a message that anyone who attempts to stand up for their rights will be punished,” Amnesty International’s Turkey Strategy and Research Manager, Andrew Gardner is quoted in a statement as saying.

The workers and unionists are accused of preventing law enforcement from intervening at the September 14th protest, forcing others to strike, damaging property and bringing potentially harmful gear (like sticks and stones) to the demonstration. During the protest, buses were crashed into buildings, injuring “dozens” of people, according to media reports.

The dignified and safe working conditions Gardner refers to vary from bedbugs in workers’ accommodation, to fatal incidents at the airport construction site. According to Ahval news, the government claimed there were 27 deaths at the site since May 2015. But just days ago, Turkey’s authorities revealed that a total of 52 fatal work-related accidents were recorded at the airport construction site.