Deadline dash in Istanbul

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The Moodie Report has visited many airport construction sites in our travels, but scarcely one where the pressure to meet the opening deadline was so heavy with meaning as that at Sabiha Gokcen International (SGIA), Istanbul’s second airport.

There are now less than four months until the 29 October opening of the new airport terminal. What is remarkable about the deadline is that the three-way consortium of GMR, Limak Holdings and Malaysia Airports pledged to complete the project a year ahead of schedule, in October 2009 rather than 2010.

The date too is one that simply cannot be missed – 29 October is Turkey’s National Day, adding to the expectation that always accompanies a major infrastructure project of national significance.

There is still plenty of work left to meet the looming deadline, as we discovered on a tour of the site this week (pictured above are SGIA and Setur Duty Free managers, with The Moodie Report Deputy Publisher Dermot Davitt, right). Yet both airport and its key concessionaire Setur are bullish about the prospects of hitting the date, several SGIA managers telling us that they were even ahead of schedule.

So what can we expect from the new commercial areas? A huge leap forward in terms of size and scale from the current terminal, for one.

There’s 4,500sq m of duty free space in Arrivals and Departures, plus 5,000sq m of F&B space. The photo above depicts what will eventually become one of Setur’s core category zones in its main duty free store – a vast, shopping complex that straddles both sides of a wide corridor leading to the gates.

But for an airport that handled 4.3 million passengers in total in 2008, and expects 6 million in 2009, is that simply too much?

SGIA Chief Commercial Officer Server Aydin doesn’t think so. “We have been growing at +30% a year, and by 2015 we expect Istanbul to have 20 million tourists, more than double the number today,” he says. ” That means we will be hitting capacity in our commercial areas by then. There is huge potential here. Our goal is to be a hub bridging east and west, not just a low-cost or transit airport but a hybrid, with strong scheduled traffic too. We’re now the third biggest airport in Turkey, and by 2011 we expect to be the second [behind Istanbul Ataturk-Ed].”

That’s a big ambition – but backed by the experience and strong track record of shareholders such as GMR and Malaysia Airports, it’s one that can be made to happen. First things first, though: 29 October is looming and the clock is ticking.

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