Istanbul Airport is optimistic that it will recover and expand following the disruption of the last 18 months

Sponsored by: Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport was the busiest airport in Europe throughout much of 2020 and continues to be among the top performers in 2021. Home carrier Turkish Airlines is expanding its network and there are some 120 countries, 60 capital cities, and 130 different destinations within a three-hour flight.

With such a strong recovery in prospect, thoughts are turning to the future. Airport CEO, Kadri Samsunlu, accepts that “the impact of this pandemic might be felt for the next 10 years” but emphasizes that aviation is a rapidly evolving and dynamic sector. “Things might improve much faster, with goals reached sooner than 2024 and demand much higher than our present forecasts,” he says.

Samsunlu is confident that mega-hubs will be the first to recover. “Mid-sized hubs (up to 40 million pax) will take longer to recover unless they have a very strong flag carrier and low-cost carrier (LCC) presence,” he suggests. “Regional airports will need to focus on point-to-point potential via LCCs and capture long-haul traffic via hub connectivity and a closer cooperation with mega-hubs. Furthermore, as mega-hubs will play a significant role over the next decade, their catchment area potential will be extended via intermodal connectivity.”

Traffic flows, however, will change. “There is huge backlog of leisure traffic, which I expect will recover quickly in 2022 alongside visiting friends and relatives travel,” Samsunlu says. “Internal business travel may take a long time to recover as many companies have learned that it is possible to meet internal colleagues online. However, external business travel will bounce back quickly, especially to/from Asia as face-to-face contact is very important in that part of the world.”

Overall, Samsunlu continues to see a role for the hub model as traffic starts to come back. “We believe that there will be fewer hubs in the long term, but those that remain will be stronger and more profitable if they make the necessary short and long-term adjustments to their model,” he says.

“There is a huge backlog of leisure traffic, which I expect will recover quickly in 2022 alongside visiting friends and relatives travel” Kadri Samsunlu

Contactless flow

Hub or not, all airports will have to adjust infrastructure, partly because of public health issues but also because of technological innovation.

Contactless flow through an airport is becoming essential. That means a fully automated, touchless, and individualized journey. Considering the technology available today, such as self-check-in, biometric passport control and boarding gates, innovations in five to 10 years will have evolved to extraordinary levels. It will almost certainly be possible to fly using a mobile app and face recognition for every process and never have to use a passport or present the ticket.

At stake is a competitive edge in a fiercely competitive industry. Passengers are returning and Istanbul Airport is working day and night to provide them with a seamless experience through its customized products and services, using the available technology in every aspect of business. The aim, according to Samsunlu, is to make the transit through the airport a unique experience for every user.

The strategy at Istanbul Airport, therefore, is to remain customer focused. The one-size-fits-all model does not work any longer. Airports need to adjust to both the needs of the airlines and of their passengers. Istanbul Airport has already started to invest in the post COVID-19 era by implementing products for different passenger groups and nationalities, such as the China Friendly Airport Project, Z-Generation, and the +65s among many others.

Cabin hotels

Samsunlu thinks passengers are also increasingly looking for areas where they can relax, be entertained, and enjoy themselves. In future airport designs, the terminal airside design will become more important.

“You need to provide different and attractive experience opportunities to passengers of all ages, such as virtual reality areas, experience centers, game zones, and lounge areas,” he says. “Passengers don’t want to be in a crowded location, they want individual spaces. To enhance your customer's satisfaction in this area, the airport design will present capsule or cabin hotels that they can go into by themselves and rent without having to communicate with any staff members. Sleep pods and TV or entertainment cabins may be other options.”

Climate change must also be a major consideration in the design process. To reduce environmental impact, new eco-friendly and sustainable buildings and airports are multiplying. In recent projects, even vegetation has been integrated into airport design.

“Furthermore, energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions in airports are major issues,” Samsunlu concludes. “With the aim of decreasing CO2 emissions and creating alternative energy sources, photovoltaic panels are starting to be used both inside and outside of airports. So, ensuring that there is enough daylight and sunshine inside of the building will be essential.”

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Kadri Samsunlu, CEO, Istanbul Airport