Many have aspired, but only one airport has reached that elusive distinction of counting its passengers with nine digits.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport sits as the exclusive member of what can’t yet be considered a club: those airports in the world that have topped the 100 million passenger mark. Atlanta actually reached 104 million last year, an increase of 2.6 percent over the 101 million-plus that put it over the edge in 2015.
Turkish aviation officials visited Atlanta in February to learn from the world’s busiest passenger hub as they push ahead with plans for the Istanbul New Airport, also called the third airport, which they believe will follow Hartsfield-Jackson into the 100 million club and eventually double its tally to 200 million.
Huseyin Keskin, chairman of Istanbul Grand Airport, the construction company building the new hub, said in a recent interview that Istanbul’s ambitions received encouragement during a meeting with Hartsfield-Jackson’s leaders.
“One-hundred-and-four million passengers arrived in Atlanta last year. They are in the 100 million club. They were talking about us. They told us, in three to five years, they were also expecting us to enter the 100 million club,” Mr. Keskin was quoted as saying in Daily Sabah.
Mr. Keskin was also quoted as saying that the IGA had studied Atlanta’s runway design, winter preparedness and baggage operations, finding validation of its own plans. (Atlanta has been lauded for its five parallel runways, which are seen to bes the most efficient configuration for busy airpots with a lot of simultaneous takeoffs and landings.)
It’s unclear how Istanbul will achieve such rapid growth, even with the massive hub its grand plans call for, which will purportedly remove slot constraints and accommodate larger aircraft that can’t currently land at Istanbul Ataturk Airport.
That airport handled about 60 million passengers last year according to preliminary data from Airports Council International, a decline of a few percentage points as aviation and tourism suffered in Turkey thanks in part to terror attacks within the airport and a coup attempt that saw parts of it taken over by pro-government demonstrators.
Mr. Keskin didn’t mention security in the Sabah interview, but said that the Istanbul New Airport will be optimized for convenient connections throughout the world, making it attractive to carriers that have so far failed to open routes via Istanbul.
Turkish Airlines, meanwhile, has spread its wings throughout the globe, becoming the carrier with the most international destinations of any in the world.
It launched flights to Atlanta last May, reaching a high point in June with 16,905 passengers on the Atlanta-Istanbul route before the attacks hit later in the month, then the mid-July coup attempt forced the FAA to shut down flights to Istanbul and Ankara for a few days. Turkish really started to see its passenger numbers from Atlanta drop in September.
As for the 100 million club, it seems Beijing Capital Airport is most likely to join Atlanta first: With 5 percent growth last year, it hit 94 million passengers, followed by Dubai, with 83 million.
Dubai is one of the Middle Eastern hubs that Istanbul will have to out-duel for traffic on coveted transfer flights, a tough prospect considering the way that Emirates Airline has expanded throughout the globe. Qatar Airways, which launched flights from Doha to Atlanta just after Turkish in June, is another competitor, especially when it comes to passengers headed to India.
IGA’s Mr. Keskin pointed out in the Sabah story that the Istanbul New Airport will be the anchor of a new Airport City south of the new airport that will have hotels, fairgrounds, places of worship, cargo bases, free zones and more. That real estate project is being presented at the MIPIM fair in Cannes, France.
It somewhat dovetails with the Atlanta airport’s plans to spur development through the Atlanta Aerotropolis Alliance, an economic development collaborative that has brought airp0rt-area communities together to woo future projects like those already benefiting the area, including the Porsche Cars North America headquarters.
Hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives in partnership with the U.S. Trade Development Authority, the Turkish group in Atlanta was seeking U.S.-based partners in airport construction and operations.
The full group of delegates included:
General Directorate of State Airports Authority (DHMİ)
Ms. Funda Makbule Ocak
Director General and Chairwoman of the Board
Mr. Mehmet Uslu
Head of Construction & Real Estate Department
Mr. Kemal Zafer Topuz
Head of Strategy Development Department
Mr. Mustafa Kılıç
Head of Air Navigation Department
Mr. Orhan Gültekin
Head of Electronics Department
Mr. Mehmet Gürbüz
Civil Engineer of Construction & Real Estate Department (Building Control Directorate)
Mr. Timur Alp Bayrak
Director General of Istanbul Atatürk International Airport
İGA Havalimanı İşletmesi A.Ş. (İGA)
Mr. Hüseyin Keskin
Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Mehmet Büyükkaytan
Chief Operating Officer
Mr. Trevor Carnahoff
Mr. Ozan Karakis
Airside Operations Director
Mr. Fatih Mere
Mr. Atinç Tunali
Airside Operational Planning Manager
To be announced
U.S. Embassy Ankara
Ms. Ozge Eksi
Senior Commercial Specialist
U.S. Foreign Commercial Service