Turkey’s national carrier moved all its flights from Istanbul’s old airport to its shiny replacement in a single, stressful, 41-hour ‘big bang’

Passengers walk in the departures terminal of new Istanbul Airport on Saturday.

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Passengers walk in the departures terminal of new Istanbul Airport on Saturday.
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Burak Kara/Getty

  • Istanbul, Turkey, unveiled a new airport over the weekend.
  • Turkey’s national carrier moved 44 tons of equipment from its old hub at Atatürk Airport to the new airport in an intense, 41-hour operation on Friday and Saturday.
  • Atatürk Airport is now closed to all commercial flights, and international carriers are finalizing their move to the new airport this week.
  • The shiny, $11 billion new airport is considered one of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pet projects. It hopes to accommodate 90 million passengers a year.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Turkey’s national carrier moved all its planes and operations from Istanbul’s old airport to its shiny new one in an intense 41 hours over the weekend.

Turkish Airlines moved thousands of pieces of equipment – including planes, aircraft-towing vehicles, and security sensors – from its base in Atatürk Airport to New Istanbul Airport over 41 hours on Friday and Saturday.

The airline started the process, which it dubbed the “Great Move,” at 3 a.m. Friday and completed it at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Turkish Airlines confirmed to Business Insider in a statement.

Hundreds of trucks carried more than 10,000 pieces of equipment, weighing about 44 tons, Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper reported. The two airports are about 20 miles apart.

Istanbul's new airport and old Ataturk Airport are about 20 miles from each other.

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Istanbul’s new airport and old Ataturk Airport are about 20 miles from each other.
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Google Maps/Business Insider

Mehmet Turhan, Turkey’s transport minister, called it “the biggest move in world aviation history” in a TV broadcast cited by the Daily Sabah newspaper. The Guardian and Financial Times (FT) referred to the operation as “the big bang.”

The old airport is located in southern Istanbul, near the Sea of Marmara, while the new one is in the city’s north, near the Black Sea. Both airports were shut during the moving operations, Daily Sabah reported.

A drone photo shows landing strips at the new Istanbul Airport toward the end of the

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A drone photo shows landing strips at the new Istanbul Airport toward the end of the “great move” on Saturday.
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IGA / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Atatürk Airport is now officially shut for commercial flights, and international carriers will start flying to and from the new airport in the coming days, the FT reported.

Turkish Airlines completed its last commercial flight from Atatürk – bound for Singapore – at 2:44 a.m. on Friday, according to Reuters.

The airline flew its first flight from the new airport at 2 p.m. on Saturday, bound for Turkey’s capital Ankara. At this stage the move was still underway, and would take another six hours.

Turkish Airlines planes park at new Istanbul Airport on Saturday.

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Turkish Airlines planes park at new Istanbul Airport on Saturday.
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Burak Kara/Getty

İlker Aycı, the chairman of Turkish Airlines, said in a Saturday statement: “Successfully concluding its mission of being the home of our brand throughout our 86 years of history, saying farewell to Atatürk Airport was a highly saddening experience for us.”

Aycı added to the FT that the first 12 hours of the process was “very stressful” but “there was no crash, no loss and no big or small crisis.”

Trucks carry equipment from Atatürk Airport to the new Istanbul airport on Saturday. The 41-hour move has been dubbed the

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Trucks carry equipment from Atatürk Airport to the new Istanbul airport on Saturday. The 41-hour move has been dubbed the “Great Move” and “the big bang.”
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Burak Kara/Getty

The $11 billion project is a pet project of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s. Turkish Airlines described Erdoğan as “the originator behind the idea of this monumental project and its biggest supporter” in its Saturday statement.

Authorities hope the airport will accommodate 90 million passengers a year, which would be an increase of nearly 50% on the 64 million passengers Atatürk Airport reported in 2017.

Aycı, the Turkish Airlines chairman, and Turhan, the transport minister, on the weekend described the airport as the “biggest airport project of the world.”

The opening of the airport had been delayed multiple times. Cranes could still seen near the terminal building on Saturday, the FT reported.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Istanbul in May 2018. The new airport is considered one of his pet projects.

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Istanbul in May 2018. The new airport is considered one of his pet projects.
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(Photo by Getty Images)

The new airport’s opening comes as Erdoğan’s 17-year grip on power appears fragile, with the recent defeat of his political party were in local elections.

The Justice and Development Party has rejected the results and on Tuesday called for a re-run.