How have you coped with the big increase in demand this year?
We never stopped our operations like the rest of the world. Only two months—April and May 2020—were badly affected. We are a tourist destination, so the government needed to keep the country open as much as possible. And as we are a service economy with 85 million people and two hours flight time from east to west, we had to keep the domestic wheels turning too.
In 2022, we are 18% behind 2019 but after pandemic this quotient is still a success. We were the busiest airport in Europe in 2020 with 23 million passengers per annum (mppa) and in 2021 with 37 mppa. This year we had reached some 46 mppa by the end September and it seems we will be the busiest airport again.
We were always at full employment and so we have not had the problems associated with other airports in Europe. In fact, we completed the construction of our third independent parallel runway, which has helped to increase capacity and decrease taxi times by 50%. And we have been actively marketing iGA Istanbul Airport’s potential versus its competition.
Our focus on development was therefore largely untouched. This market is still under-served. Although iGA Istanbul Airport is a major hub, not many people are aware of the potential of Istanbul as a final destination. As such, we have started targeting other carriers to bring point-to-point, or inbound tourism, to our city.
To highlight a few examples, Air Arabia started flying from Sharjah, which has increased the number of UAE nationals and expats into our city. And the entry of the Emirates A380 will promote our city through their large network. Emirates currently has five destinations in Australia, seven in Pakistan, and more than 10 in India. This helps us to grow the one-stop traffic in our city.
What plans do you have to enhance the airport in the future?
During the pandemic, we decided on a proactive approach. We finalised our strategy for the next five years, which defines which markets we will focus on and the investments we will make. Each phase of development will be triggered when passenger numbers or aircraft movements reach a certain benchmark. There will be three more phases to come in the lifetime of the concession.
We remain supportive of Turkish Airlines—they are our most important customer—but all airlines should feel comfortable doing business with us. In fact, 20 new passenger airlines are flying to Istanbul since the new airport opened.
We are developing products for our passengers all the time. To highlight a few examples, we are now a ‘China Friendly Airport’, and we have also focused on the Generation Z group as they are our future travelers and influencers in the family leisure travel sector. There is even a dedicated youth lounge where travelers between the ages of 15 and 30 years old can gain access for just €5 ($4.85).
Data will be extremely important to this group and our aim is to make sense of passenger data, to create interactions using information fed from the data, and to optimise every process in which our customers are involved.
We are working to build an ideal data architecture. One of the first sections in our Digital Customer Journey project is our airport’s online shopping platform, istbuy.com. This has been carefully designed so that our stores can display their products in a global showcase and meet the needs of our guests even before they arrive at the airport.
Our iGA Uçur function will extend the boundaries of the food and beverage areas in the terminal to the flight gate too. Couriers on scooters will deliver coffee and sandwiches to passengers at the flight gate. And iGA Wallet, which enables online secure payments, is another feature that we have implemented to make the shopping experience at Istanbul Airport faster and more comfortable.
Finally, let’s not forget we are also a cargo airport with 5.5 million tonnes of capacity. This airport will be a super-hub, Istanbul will be connected to rest of the country through logistics. Cargo is an important revenue driver.
How have new technologies influenced passenger flows and behaviours and how will you adapt your infrastructure?
Istanbul Airport is proud of its promise to be the most digitally advanced airport in the world. From the very first stage of design, we determined the technological needs of the terminal and its passengers and developed the airport infrastructure accordingly.
There is a queue management system that informs passengers about waiting times; digital information screens that allow video calls; an e-passport system; flight notification screens with multi-alphabet support; and a mobile application that offers a mobile-centred travel experience with a much easier airport journey.
An example of the latter is a parking/valet payment option so passengers can enjoy an uninterrupted inbound passenger experience without the need to stop at the payment point. The flight notification function, meanwhile, allows passengers to track when they need to go to the flight gate using the notifications on their phones, without the need to find an information screens. Some 30% of app users regularly use the flight search function.
Our customer satisfaction feedback is important to us when continuing our technological investments. As the experience becomes easier, customer satisfaction increases, and airport and flight stresses are minimized. Digitization is a process that will never end.
We are currently working on integrating block chain technology into our infrastructure. From ticket sales to air cargo, and passenger identity to cyber security, almost all our operational processes are being designed using block chain technology. It will generate new opportunities and greater trust.
Are you confident that you can attract new talent to the industry to keep up with demand?
One of the most important factors when recruiting new talent is to have a well-defined mission statement. This will improve employee engagement and give them a clearer understanding of the company values.
Potential talent is also attracted through the promotion of our workplace based on the experience of our current employees. This type of promotion is a highly personal one and can lead to engaging talent early and instilling a sense of loyalty that is directly related to the company’s overall mission.
Our brand values are based on four main pillars: Unity, Continuous development, Trust, and Customer-oriented.
Young talents also want to work for companies with excellent green credentials. What have you done to reduce your carbon emissions?
Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. It also poses one of the greatest risks for the future of the aviation industry.
Istanbul Airport is one of 238 airports that have committed to net zero CO2 emissions. But our new infrastructure is an inherent advantage. We are a smart airport with low emissions.
From the start, Istanbul Airport has conducted energy and greenhouse gas management studies. We have completed the ISO 50001 Energy Management and ISO 14064 Greenhouse Gas Management System installations and received Level 3 certification from ACI’s Carbon Accreditation Programme. The airport has also prepared its 2050 Net Zero CO2 roadmap.
In terms of energy efficiency activities, one of the most interesting is the Internet of Things (IoT). Bricks and mortar alone will never get you to full efficiency. The entire 76 million sq metre area at iGA Istanbul Airport is covered by a wireless network making remote and continuous monitoring of every online system possible. IoT technology is an essential tool for achieving net-zero energy as it allows us to optimize decision-making.
We also work hard to be as efficient as possible in our buildings. Our mechanical systems are all automated. And we also use the SCADA system for instant fault monitoring, fault source detection, remote intervention, and the monitoring of energy transmission and distribution lines.
Furthermore, we are engaged in many emission reduction initiatives, such as installing solar panels and transforming fleets to electric vehicles. And we are working to get up to 50% of our waste recycled.
We also need to ensure the infrastructure for sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) meets airline needs, including storage. We started our services for SAF usage in cooperation with Turkish Fuel Systems (TFS) in March 2022 as Turkish Airlines uses SAF twice a week.
One area that is often overlooked that I would like to mention is the Advance-Surface Movement Guidance and Control System (A-SMGCS). The A-SMGCS system helps to effectively manage the Istanbul Airport airside all the way from runways to stands providing operational efficiency, airport capacity management, emission and noise impact reduction and enhanced situation awareness and safety. With the implementation of A-SMGCS Routing (Level 3) and Guidance (Level 4 Follow the Green), the dynamic algorithm provides the shortest taxi route based on real constraint and conditions. Our teams are working on developing new algorithms for ‘lowest emission route’ option for controllers, which is new area of A-SMGS implementation under green airport concept.
Our latest focus is on carbon sinks. We think this will become increasingly important. Since the opening of our airport, more than 200,000 trees have been planted within the airport borders.
How would you describe your relationship with Turkish Airlines and what can be done to improve overall airline-airport relationships?
Turkish Airlines is our most important partner, and our future is tied to theirs. But we have challenges that we need to solve together. As an example, a hub carrier will always focus on their hub and spoke model while the point-to-point market sometimes remain untouched.
Turkish Airlines has an amazing network of over 100 destinations in Europe and over 50 in Africa. However, we do have many undiscovered areas such as Iasi, Timisoara, and Kutaisi, which are all within a two-hour flight of Istanbul, but Turkish Airlines’ aircraft are too large to service these markets.
We need to attract more LCCs and network carriers to fulfil our potential. We do not yet have the presence of Thai Airways, Aviana, Air China, ANA, United, or Air Canada, for example.
Going forward, in addition to airport and airline cooperation, we will not neglect the tourism board. We have joined forces with Visit Türkiye on many occasions as we share a mutual interest in driving inbound tourism.