Low Cost & Regional

Interview: İGA’s Kadri Samsunlu discusses the new Istanbul Airport

Istanbul Airport

Kadri Samsunlu graduated from Boğaziçi University, Department of Economics in 1991, and completed his MBA at Missouri University.

Starting his career as a financial analyst, he worked for various investment companies between 1995 and 2006, as a CEO and board member. He was engaged as investment and corporate finance consultant from 2006 until 2009 in Romania and Turkey.

Between 2008 and 2017, he worked as Chief Financial Officer in Akfen Holding. Samsunlu assumed senior manager positions in energy, construction, tourism real estate, maritime transportation and airport operations sector.

Samsunlu started as CEO of İGA Airport Operation (İstanbul Airport management) in September 2017.

What is the best and most challenging part of your job?

The biggest challenge was that Istanbul Airport was a greenfield project built from scratch. Also, İGA as a company was newly founded to build and operate this airport.

Establishing a brand-new team and ensuring that this team works together well was one of the most important and most demanding tasks.

Furthermore, keeping good relations with the board of executive directors is highly important to coordinate İGA’s operations with all five shareholders.

The most challenging part right now is overseeing a massive company, now one of the biggest in Turkey. All plans that we make at the executive level must be well conceived and incorporate several eventualities.

You have to be farsighted and communication has to be on point to achieve your goals in such a mega-project. But on the other hand, the best part about my job is seeing these plans become reality.

In just 42 months our original plans have developed from a fallow mining wasteland into one of the biggest and most modern airports in the world, something we can be very proud of.

Seeing Istanbul Airport as a beacon of pride for Turkey is the best part of my job.

Istanbul Airport CEO Samsunlu
Samsunlu says Istanbul Airport’s larger capacity will make it easier for LCCs to secure slots

The new Istanbul Airport partially opened in October last year. What have you learnt since that opening?

We started working with our largest customer, Turkish Airlines, and have learnt a lot about their expectations and responding to them.

Also, we have used the time of limited operations to ask passengers about their experience so that we are aware of the possibilities for improvement.

The surveyed travellers gave Istanbul Airport top marks for its functionality, service, design and facilities, but we are further striving to make Istanbul Airport an even greater experience for passengers.

We have learnt that our efforts to create a unique atmosphere at Istanbul Airport, and to give travellers the best possible comfort, have been received very well, which strengthens our belief that our passenger experience concept is very well conceived.

The airport fully opens in April 2019. What can the aviation industry expect to see?

The aviation industry will get a whole new centre of aviation. With 90 million passengers per year capacity, Istanbul Airport is a game changer. It will have the highest capacity of any airport in Europe, and will be amongst the biggest airports in the world.

Istanbul Airport will be a new mega-hub, connecting Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, bringing the continents closer to each other.

It’s an outstanding design, impeccable passenger experience, cutting-edge technology, and its environmental mindfulness will set new standards in the industry.

Istanbul Airport will allow the global aviation sector to grow further and with a capacity that is expandable to up to 200 million passengers per year, it will pave the way for a new chapter in aviation.

What are some of the main reasons for building the new airport, especially considering its size?

One of the main reasons for building Istanbul Airport was the final capacity limit that Atatürk Airport has reached already. This meant that Istanbul Airport had to be considerably bigger.

Also, Turkey saw the opportunity to give the world a new centre of aviation, and we are very proud that we have managed to deliver that by building Istanbul Airport.

The global aviation sector is growing continuously, and Turkey’s aviation sector is growing at an even faster pace, by 10 per cent per year. Moreover, Istanbul’s perfect geographical location makes it an important hub for international aviation.

Thus, Istanbul Airport’s capacity allows for new airlines to build worldwide routes, for example the Indian LCC IndiGo will make its first ever landing in Europe at Istanbul Airport. And, of course, Istanbul Airport will be the new home for Turkish Airlines.

THY will expand its route network even further, and plans to increase its fleet to 500 aircraft by 2023, which makes a high-capacity home airport absolutely necessary. We have considered these factors carefully, and therefore decided that Istanbul Airport will need the capacity we are building it for.

The challenge is to be the biggest and the best. How do you plan to manage these
aims successfully?

We strive to be the best in several fields indeed. One of these is the exceptional technology, as Istanbul Airport’s smart technology and IT connectivity is outstanding and will set new standards.

But also, in retail we aim to offer passengers an unprecedented experience. Istanbul Airport will feature one of the largest and best assorted duty-free sections in the world, with concept-related selected domestic and international brands offering a rich variety of products.

Customers will be welcomed with an incomparable shopping experience. We are relying on careful planning, on well-organised business structures, on an effective and hard-working work force and, finally, on the outstanding cooperation that the Turkish government has provided.

With our partners in Turkey and around the globe, we have worked tirelessly to realise our vision of Istanbul Airport, and, after just 42 months, it has manifested. This success has proven that our planning and management have been up to the challenge, and we will carry that spirit on to the future.

To be the biggest, however, is not our priority. The size of Istanbul Airport corresponds
to the need of an increased passenger capacity in Istanbul and the growing aviation sector in total.

Maybe one day, a bigger airport than Istanbul Airport will be built, but that won’t change anything about what Istanbul Airport stands for: An international hub with outstanding service and the best technology embedded into all processes of the company.

What impact will the new airport have on domestic and regional routes from Istanbul?

Istanbul Airport’s high capacity allows established carriers to service their long-standing routes effectively, whilst simultaneously allowing new airlines to open routes to Istanbul and beyond.

Regional and domestic routes that could not compete with international carriers at Atatürk will now get the possibility to build a dense regional and domestic network.

Since Turkey’s aviation sector is growing even faster than the international aviation sector, domestic flights by Turkish Airlines will have an important standing at Istanbul Airport.

Also, when the third runway is finished, Istanbul Airport can provide extra slots for domestic and international airlines at peak hours.

Do you expect to develop more low cost airline traffic?

Should low cost carriers find our operational standards and costs acceptable for their businesses, Istanbul Airport will be ready to provide services for them.

Thanks to advanced, state-of-the-art facilities and services, as well as innovative technology, we are positive that the industry will find advantages at Istanbul Airport.

The low cost carrier sector was not very well represented at Atatürk Airport, because it was hard to secure slots that were in the hands of large airlines. The airport was at its maximum capacity.

Istanbul Airport’s larger capacity will make it possible for low cost carriers to secure slots easier.

What will happen to the old Istanbul Atatürk Airport?

After the ‘big bang’, Istanbul Atatürk Airport will be closed for domestic and international commercial passenger flights.

The airport will be only running for the following services: cargo, maintenance/ technical, general aviation, air taxi, business flights, for state aircraft, and other flights permitted by the aviation authority.

After the whole moving process, Istanbul Atatürk Airport will have the IATA code ‘ISL’, while Istanbul Airport will receive the IATA code ‘IST’.

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