Why does Atatürk Havalimani* have all the money?

* havalimani :  airport


Istanbul’s gleaming and expanding airport is a symbol of a nation going places …

… Heathrow is not,
argues Boris Johnson.


The other night we were filling in time at Istanbul airport, and I was watching an official dart around on one of those new Segway gizmos.  Have you seen one?  They are extraordinary.  It was as though his feet had grown wheels.  This way and that he sheepdogged the passengers, twisting and curvetting and generally running rings round them like some Spanish midfielder.

“What a poser !” I exclaimed.  “He’s just showing off.  He doesn’t need that thing at all.”  And then he pushed down the stick and he shot off into the distance like Usain Bolt – and we understood why he was equipped with electric feet.

There is a scene in From Russia With Love when James Bond arrives at what was Yesilkoy airport – with only one terminal, looking like a small whitewashed suburban bungalow, an inferior version of Biggin Hill.  Those days are gone, my friends.  Today’s Ataturk International is colossal.

It is more colossal than an American shopping mall, and that is saying something.  Gleaming marble concourses dwindle into the distance, hedged around by luscious watch and chocolate shops, and that’s why you need a Segway to get around.  As I watched that Turkish official zooming off through the crowds, I had the perfect image of the scale, the dynamism and the technological optimism of the Turkish economy.

Owing to some foul-up, we had a day to kill in Istanbul, and I had a chance to check out the mood of a city I first visited 25 years ago.  We walked through the garment district and saw businesses that were patently flooded with roubles and Middle-Eastern money.  We saw the spanking new hotels on the Bosporus, the lidos full of beer and bikinis, and we saw how in some parts of the city the skyscrapers now compete with the minarets to provide the distinctive image of the Istanbul skyline.

As we took in the symptoms of an economy now coming strongly out of recession – and growing at 11 per cent – I had an inkling about a modern geopolitical conundrum.  Some of us have been arguing for years that it would be good for Turkey, and good for Europe, if Turkey were to join the EU.  So it has been slightly dismaying, over the same period, to see how the Turks themselves have apparently become more apathetic on the question – if not positively opposed.  As we looked around booming Istanbul, I could kind of see their point.

Atatürk — Istanbul’s international airport

Why should they submit to the rule of the Eurocrats, when Turkish businesses and other interests are now starting to gain ground across the Middle East and in the former Soviet Asian republics ?  And why should they feel they have anything to learn from European transport infrastructure, when you compare the glories of Ataturk International with Heathrow ?

You want to know why we had a day in Istanbul ?  You want to know why we missed our connection ?  Because of Heathrow.  On the instrument-groaning roof of one of those overpopulated buildings in west London, some aerial or radar had succumbed to the wrong kind of rain and for an hour and a half no plane could leave.  Heathrow was the problem because Heathrow is a doomed daily attempt to pour a quart into a pint pot and, with our hub international airport already running at 99 per cent capacity, we need a radical solution.

Every week I meet businessmen who think the Government will in the end be forced to break its promise and go ahead with a third runway.  And every time I tell those distinguished businessmen that this Government will not, and cannot, do any such thing.  To build another runway, slap bang in the middle of the west London suburbs, would be an act of environmental barbarism – hugely increasing airborne and vehicular congestion, and eroding the quality of life for millions of people.

Nor is high-speed rail anything like the solution, not when pork-barrel politics will force the trains (if they ever arrive and if the tracks ever get built) to make so many stops en route to Scotland that you end up with low-speed trains on high-speed tracks.  And, as the Prime Minister and his entourage have just demonstrated, you cannot conveniently approach India by high-speed rail ;  and given that 99 per cent of the population of India have yet to board an aircraft ;  and given all that has just been said about the need to increase trade and communications with that country ;  and given that there is every reason to think the British demand for air travel will continue to grow over the next 30 years as it has over the last 30 ;  it is obvious that the current policy of no new runways anywhere in the South East is utterly ridiculous.

Heathrow — London’s international airport

Of course the good people of Sussex will object to a new runway at Gatwick, and the same points will doubtless be made against any expansion of Luton, Stansted or any other terrestrial location in the vicinity of London.

That is why some people are arguing for a clean, green 24-hour hub airport that could be built in the Thames estuary, far from human habitation, with no more threat to bird life than there is at Heathrow.  I don’t know if they are correct.  But we are surely right to look at it seriously.

Planes are becoming ever cleaner and greener.  In 1985 the average passenger aircraft used eight litres of fuel per passenger per 100 km.  That is now down to three litres, and falling, and in the next 20 years we will have vast flying wings, capable of carrying 1,000 passengers and saving 40 per cent on fuel.  Wouldn’t it be utterly insane if they can land everywhere else in the world except Britain ?

Look at the potential for growth at Schiphol, Paris, Frankfurt – our immediate economic rivals – all with more runways than Heathrow.  And even if the Government were so mad and bad as to break its word and build a third runway at Heathrow, that would still not be enough.

Ataturk International already has three runways, and they are planning a fourth.  We cannot, to coin a phrase, go on like this.  It is time for vision.

Boris Johnson writes for The Daily Telegraph

19 thoughts on “Why does Atatürk Havalimani* have all the money?”

  1. “Mr Johnson has previously said west London never wanted the western extension, which covers most of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, and said it had failed to work.”

    Yes, that’s right Mr Johnson, do what people want [Ed: inappropriate]

    God forbid we make enemies of any car-commuters.

  2. Why not build a new airport on the 20 square miles of Salisbury Plain (owned by the MoD) and have a non-stop high speed rail link to central London?

  3. Dear Mr. Johnson,
    Your article “Why does Atatürk Havalimanı have all the money?” dated August 2, 2010 made me very happy. Istanbul Atatürk Airport is the crown jewel of TAV Airports Holding and we exert our utmost efforts to enable maximum operational and service quality, increasing customer satisfaction each day.
    While going through your article I was pleased to see that our endeavors really matter and that Ataturk Airport is receiving the appreciation it deserves from an objective commentator capable of evaluating our terminal from an operational, business and customer perspective.
    I would like to thank for your remarks and kindly state that as TAV Airports Holding we are aware of the magnitude of our responsibility, especially about Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Istanbul, which has been the capital of three empires, is one of the largest metropolises in the world now, as well as Turkey’s window to the world. Selected European Capital of Culture in 2010 by the European Union, Istanbul attracts millions of people throughout Turkey as well as from abroad due to its unequalled cultural heritage and more than 12 million residents.
    Wishing to see you in your future visits at Istanbul International Atatürk Airport.
    Yours Faithfully,
    Dr. M. Sani Şener
    CEO and President
    TAV Airports Holding

  4. interesting stuff on airports.

    “The Mayor of London’s proposal to remove the Western Extension of the Congestion Charging Zone (WEZ) is condemned by air quality, transport and environment groups [1], who say, among other things, it would increase air pollution and could result in European air quality laws being broken.”

    Why is Boris Johnson removing the WEZ? Was the idea of letting the residents decide simply a spineless way of winning votes in the mayoral election?

  5. It seems that an earlier inquiry in to the viability of such a facility — an aerodrome in the Thames estuary — found that, first, the effect on local bird life might be overwhelming and, secondly, there might be a greater risk, owing to the presence of the birds, of bird-strike.

    How much the inquiry’s findings were influenced by protestations — understandable but motivated by concern to preserve the locals’ peaceful environment (so called NIMBYism) — and how much by objective factors I could not possibly say.

    Bearing in mind his father’s interests, I was surprised by the Mayor’s summary dismissal of the possible effect of his planned aerodrome and the attendant infrastructure upon estuarine wildlife, particularly the birds, some of which, I believe, are of migratory species (including the Avocet on Annex I), although I don’t believe any species within the estuary is listed as cause of concern.


  6. Can’t say I blame the Turks for being apathetic about joining the European Union. Just what would that sclerotic, bumbling organisation do to a thriving economy, like theirs, after a few years?????????

  7. We have to get away from the idea the airports must be a cross between a gigantic, tacky shopping mall and a cattle market, minus the concern for animal welfare. We passengers are the guano deposits of the world, no better regarded than bird poo but profitable to exploit.

  8. What do you really want? Bigger and bigger airports? Or you want to reduce carbon footprint because you worry about climate change?

    Thank the Lord Turkey is not in the EU yet- if she is, there will be another massive influx of economy-but-will-claim-social-benefits-immigrants: goat herders, gypsies, belly dancers etc… Turkish belly dancers will be welcomed with open arms by the Mayor, I’m sure.

  9. Heathrow airport is fine as it is. People can’t afford holidays abroad during this never ending recession anyway.

  10. Tiresias, your analysis of airports and the air travel industry in general is both eloquent and accurate.
    I do think, however, that you must have travelled by air with a first class ticket. No self-respecting galley-slave of the ancient days would have tolerated what one must put up with in business class.

  11. Ah, airports. Maddening, frustrating and not for the faint of heart. I spend a lot of time in them and frankly, have never encontered any that I would describe as great or even good. At best, I would say the Seattle airport isn’t rage-inducing. High praise. 🙂 But Boris touches on Heathrown (which I know pretty well) and Atatürk International which I know not at all. And after reading this piece, I still don’t know any more about it.

    Boris writes admiringly of the size of Atatürk International Airport. Colossal, he says. More so, he points out, than an American shopping mall. Huh? Almost every airport I have ever been to it bigger than an American shopping mall. So what?

    It appears that Boris subscribes to the adage that bigger is better and size does matter. Which indeed it does – but when it comes to airports, there’s more to it. What makes an airport work or not isn’t JUST the size but the size in relation to the traffic, the layout of the terminals, the scheduling of arrivals and departures, the placement and length of the taxiways, the management and maintenance, staffing resources and training, the signage and communications systems and the state (condition and age) of the facilities themselves. We hear nothing of any of this from the Segway-distracted Boris.

    Heathrow IS a clusterf*ck of massive proportions, I grant you that and I’d love to avoid it when I come over in Sept but I didn’t make the arrangements – but it is FAIR to compare the two on size alone when Ataturk has less that half the traffic? Is it fair to focus solely on the issue of runways?

    Does Atatürk Intl’s building of more runways mean that they are thinking of the future, planning on expansion? Sure. But you know, the Hartford airport did that too – and the dreams of increased international traffic and rising passenger totals never came to be. In fact, the numbers went down and now Hartford is home to a massive, woefully underused airport with a maintenance budget that eats everything in its path. Still, I’m not arguing that Heathrow doesn’t need to increase runway capacity. It does. But it seems to me that “more runways” is being touted at the solution to all Heathrow’s problems.

    Are more runways the magic bullet that will solve the chaos that is Heathrow? It might help – and anyone with half a brain should be able to look at the traffic levels and see that SOMETHING must be done but it’s not the only thing that needs fixing out there. Consider that Chicago’s O’Hare has 7 runways and not nearly as many passengers as Heathrow – and still accounts for a whopping one sixth of all flight cancellations in the US. JFK has even fewer passengers than that and 4 runways – their on time arrival stats are the catastrophic stuff of legend. So more runways may not – on their own – make Heathrow the airport of everyone’s dreams. The signage in Heathrow is awful – Gatwick is slightly better and both have NYC mazes known as LaGuardia and JFK beat hands down. Newark’s signage is pretty good but the layout of the terminals themselves are no longer working with traffic patterns and levels as they stand now. Especially for those making connections of any kind.

    Heathrow’s facility and operational infrastructure (runways aside) is also showing it’s age in a lot of ways (as Boris points out regarding why he was stuck). The same aging-related delays plague LaGuardia and JFK – and LaGuardia is additionally hampered by the runways so old they can only handle about 50% of the equipment being used today. No way to expand them – there’s water in the way so LaGuardia just moves slowly – and inescapably – towards irrelevancy. JFK’s capacity issues are dwarfed by transportation obstacles that boggle the mind. Heathrow may not be perfect but at least I can just take a train. Public transportation to JFK (and LGA for that matter) is an exercise it near futility. Getting blood from a stone is easier that the bus to the train and the transfers etc. that you must undertake.

    So before we declare Atatürk the “Airport of the Future” and everything Heathrow should aspire to be, I’d like a bit more information and details apart from “OMG! Shiny!”

  12. Gotham Girl’s thoughtful comment should give us all pause for thought :  the Mayor’s proposed solution of Heathrow’s problems involves a humungous investment (quite apart from any environmental consideration) ;  we must not allow ourselves to fall in to what one might call ‘the Stern trap’*, spending money that, in any case, we do not have on re-locating London’s main aerodrome, when the solution might lie elsewhere.

    As to the cost of the project :  a new aerodrome would not involve just building a few runways, terminals &c. out in the estuary ;  for it to make any sense there would have to be a network of road and railway connexions capable of transferring arriving and departing passengers at such a speed and so conveniently that all would feel the great expense justified.

    Let us not forget that Heathrow is the most significant employer — direct and indirect — in its environs :  thousands work for the aerodrome itself, the airlines that use it, the catering and maintenance companies &c. ;  if we eventually decide to move the facility to the other side of London, we shall have to move most of these along with it.

    We certainly need to consider the matters the Mayor raises — particularly the fact that Heathrow always feels so down-at-heel and is so oft simply swamped by its own clientèle — but let us not delude ourselves :  even when we have overcome all the legal and political obstacles, this will be a huge task.



    *  Lord Stern, posing as an economist, despite apparently unaware of some of the principal concepts of economics, proposes all manner of immediate and costly activity to ‘combat global warming’, making no allowance at all for either human ingenuity and the technological capabilities of our descendants or the time value of money (sc. the fact that £1 or $1 spent fifty years hence costs less than the same spent to-morrow).

  13. Pericles, you identify the ‘Stern Trap’, which is symptomatic of a trend amongst those infected by eco-hysteria that frankly terrifies me. One of the many suggestions of his report was that meat-eating should ideally be abolished, on the grounds of the environmental cost. A BBC Radio 4 show a few months ago gave airspace to various well-respected environmentalists who posited accurately that such measures would be impossible to enact in a democracy. So what was the solution? You’ve got it! Abolish democracy in the name of ecology.
    Am I not the environment, too?

  14. Ed Gibb and others should be quite clear about those he describes as “infected by eco-hysteria” :  they are in no wise hysterical but are deliberately spreading alarm and despondency, in order to create the excuse for the imposition of a supranational form of socialism, and, unlike the hysterical, know exactly what they are doing.

    That the B.B.C. is a socialist organization is in any case already well known :  hence its always advancing the I.P.C.C.* line and never allowing on air any-one capable of explaining to its scientifically illiterate listeners the fact that they are the victims of the biggest fraud in Earth’s long story.



    *  U.N. Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, for the benefit of any-one just returning from thirty years on α-Centauri b

  15. Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor’s transport adviser, said: “The Mayor is extremely proud of the hard work that has gone into the launch of the cycle scheme, the positive manner in which Londoners have embraced it and the patience they have shown when minor issues have occurred.”

    The previous mayor was also about to introduce a cycle hire scheme. Furthermore, he introduced something much more significant, the congestion charge, because he was a signpost, not a weathercock like Boris Johnson.

  16. Pericles, I agree, though I am quite clear about the eco-hysterics. There must be consensus amongst self-appointed cultural and political elites, as it is necessary to their existence, just as there was a socialist consensus amongst their parents and grandparents after the war. They know their views are correct, because they are the views that they have. Simple! In the seventies, I relied on Edward Heath – he was a beacon of misguided and passionately wrong consensual opinion. These days, that ‘proud enemy of the Enlghtenment’, Prince Charles, has inherited Heath’s mantle. But, optimism and courage! A Hayek and a Thatcher, de nos jours, charging, just over the horizon….

  17. Sure, Ataturk Airport is shiny and colossal and everything, however I would hardly call it the best out there,as a Turk. However, I do agree that it is far better than Heathrow. Everytime I am at Heathrow I find myself craving a pint of lager due to the stress it causes especially if you are in transit. It is dirty, way too packed and takes ages to get to your gate. My vote, being the best aiport out there goes to Singapore and Munchen. O’Hare is also somewhat ok.

    I am not even gonna go into the EU discussions. I am sure they have enough financial burden to deal with the moment, like Greece.
    They would not benefit from Turkey’s booming economy:d

  18. Oxford Airport is the best for business professionals, less congestion and easier flight planning:


    “The ‘London’ alternative – We won’t pretend that Oxford (OXF) is as close to central London as London City (LCY) Heathrow (LHR) or Northolt (NHT) – but in driving-time terms, there is usually little difference compared with the likes of Farnborough, Luton, Biggin Hill or Stansted if heading to or from the west end of the capital. It is also easier and often faster to access by air, outside of the London TMA – a lot less expensive too.”

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