Europe’s Busiest Airport? Istanbul Expects 35 Million Passengers In 2021

Istanbul is Europe’s busiest airport this year, and it intends to stay there. The highly ambitious airport has welcomed 11 new airlines and 26 new routes this year, along with Emirates’ A380, which operates daily. And unlike other airports, Istanbul has confirmed that it has no intention of increasing charges above pre-pandemic levels – helping to fuel further growth.

Turkish Airlines began Dallas on September 24th. Istanbul is keen on more US routes, including Philadelphia and Seattle. Photo: via Jamal Hamza, Regional Marketing and Sales Operations Manager, Turkish Airlines.

35 million passengers for Istanbul this year

Istanbul Airport, the main airport serving the enormous city, anticipates 35 million passengers this year. This makes it the biggest airport serving Europe – and, yes, it is on the European side of the Bosphorus. This strong performance was helped by welcoming 26 new routes and 11 new airlines in the past year or so, including flydubai, Air Arabia, SkyUp, and Pobeda.

This is just the beginning,” Majid Khan, Vice President Air Service Development, told Simple Flying. Khan says Istanbul could be attractive to more low-cost carriers and point-to-point (P2P) operators generally. Russia’s Pobeda, for example, added six P2P markets across Russia.

While he said Istanbul is more expensive than Sabiha Gökçen, on the Asian side of the city, it benefits from lower charges than most comparable airports and has no congestion issue, meaning “airlines can grow here.” He gave the example of Barcelona, with 65% of passengers transiting Istanbul despite the P2P opportunity.

“I could see Vueling flying here for the P2P and also connections across Spain. Airlines should look at the potential to feed Istanbul from their own hubs.”

SkyUp B737-800
Ukraine’s SkyUp launched Kyiv from Istanbul in the past year. Due to the success of this route, they now have five P2P routes to Istanbul. Photo: N509FZ via Flickr.

Khan sees 73 unserved markets in Europe

We have a very long list of desired destinations in Europe,” Khan said. He singled out Bristol, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle, and Southampton as possibilities in the UK. Southampton is expected to see its runway length extended, which will open up more opportunities. Turkish Airlines’ narrowbodies will be crucial for such destinations.

Despite the enormous European network from Istanbul, Khan has identified 73 unserved markets across the continent that have good potential. These include more destinations in Poland, Italy, UK, Spain, Russia, and Ukraine. Poland, for example, could grow by “five or six” airports but is currently limited by bilateral agreements.

One way around this could be to attract other airlines and for Turkish Airlines to partner with them. Khan believes that “many airlines are wary of the dominance of Turkish Airlines, but that misses the point.” He believes that Turkish is more open to interlining or otherwise cooperating than many carriers realize.

Istanbul's international network 2021
This is Istanbul Airport’s international network across Europe and the Caucasus this year. Image: OAG Mapper.

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New connect product could help

Even without formal agreements, the new Istanbul Connect product could help grow connectivity and reach. Starting in February, passengers will be able to travel between airlines over Istanbul on one ticket. There will be a minimum connecting time of two hours, along with the chance to explore the city for up to 24 hours. “It’ll be fast and easy, and there will be no risk for the airlines,” Khan explained.

Khan says that Africa is a very important market from Istanbul. He would like to see more focus on higher-yielding Africa to Asia traffic. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

Istanbul keen to get more US service

Turkish Airlines now serves 11 US airports non-stop from Istanbul, with Dallas inaugurated on September 24th. Building on the growth of US service – flights are up by one-third over 2019 – Khan is very keen to increase US presence, especially on US airline metal. Indeed, he is excited to diversify the airline pool in Istanbul, whether Star Alliance carriers or not.

Khan singled out Philadelphia and Seattle as potential new opportunities in the US. Denver may be likely too. Earlier this year, Turkish Airlines said that it would be adding Dallas and Denver. The former has launched, while the latter hasn’t yet been announced. Khan says that Denver is likely but will be subject to the performance of Dallas.

Where would you like to see served from Istanbul? Let us know in the comments.