Turkey seeks to curb growth of Sabiha Gökçen to favour Istanbul Airport

Turkey’s civil aviation authority’s decision to limit new flights from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen airport is an attempt to push airline companies to use the new Istanbul airport, Cumhuriyet daily reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources in the sector. 

Istanbul Airport, one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s trademark mega-projects, opened to much fanfare last year, but questions remain about the build quality and location of the new airport. 

Passenger numbers at Sabiha Gökçen airport on the Asian side of Istanbul increased by 20 percent in 2019 and budget carrier Pegasus, which mainly flies from the airport, was the best performing stock last year on the Borsa Istanbul 30 Index.

But the country’s Civil Aviation Directorate announced this week that no new requests for additional routes using Sabiha Gökçen International would be approved, citing maintenance work and heavy traffic at the airport as reasons for the decision. 

Sabiha Gökçen International Airport was selected as the "Best Airport of the Year" last month by the Asia Pacific Aviation Center (CAPA), one of the world's leading aviation organisations. The airport runs at around 80 percent capacity and handles 35 million passengers annually. 

“There is no capacity problem, the aim is obviously to direct passengers and airline companies to Istanbul airport instead of Sabiha Gökçen,” a source in the aviation sector told Cumhuriyet. 

The delays in the construction of a second runway at Sabiha Gökçen is also an indication of the authorities’ attempts to favour Istanbul airport, Cumhuriyet said. The construction started four years ago and is planned for completion by the end of 2020, but one source told Cumhuriyet that the opening of the second runway might be postponed. 

Pegasus faced an 8.2 percent decline on the Borsa Istanbul after the civil aviation authority’s decision, while the country’s flag carrier Turkish Airlines saw a more than 2 percent gain, Cumhuriyet said.