Are challenges at New Istanbul Airport threatening carriers’ cargo operations?

After several delays to entering operations, the massive New Istanbul Airport (now IST, formerly ISL) finally opened for commercial operations in April. Since that time, however, the airport has been faced with several challenges – meteorological and political – that could be cause for concern for air cargo providers moving forward.   

On May 17, flights to IST from several cities – including Basel, Berlin, Bremen, Göteborg, Edremit, Elazığ, Marseille and Riga – were redirected to neighboring Tekirdağ Çorlu Airport (TEQ) due to weather conditions, according to Turkish local news, dubaR Gazete. Other flights were redirected to Atatürk Airport (now ISL, formerly IST), while some were forced to return to their original destination. 

Nearly a month later, and the situation appears to be mostly unchanged. Although Turkish Airlines and Baku-based Silk Way West, both of which operate cargo service at IST, did not return requests for comment, flight tracking data on FlightRadar24 shows delayed departures are on the rise, with an estimated 74% of flights delayed and delay times averaging 24 minutes. While a much smaller share of arriving flights to IST are delayed, more than 80 flights originally scheduled for arrival at IST on the evening of June 10 are expected to be diverted to ISL.  

Currently, the new airport hosts flights operated by several major freighter operators, including Turkish Cargo, the subsidiary of Turkish Airlines, and Silk Way West. Turkey-based all-cargo carrier MNG Airlines, which had originally planned to move its cargo operations to IST, told Air Cargo World that while it has its new premises at IST, most of its scheduled freighter service continues to operate from ISL, a condition that is not expected to change until the old airport closes. 

Although Turkish Cargo reported its now dual operations between IST and ISL as “seamless” and without any problems in a statement released by the carrier last month, monthly cargo traffic indicates the truth may be otherwise. In April, Turkish Cargo reported its first year-over-year decline in cargo tonnage since our sister site, Cargo Facts, began collecting regular data for the carrier in 2011. Overall tonnage for the carrier fell by 12.9% to about 99,000 tonnes, representing a month-to-month decline of 28.4% from March. This was the lowest monthly tonnage the carrier has reported since February 2018.  

Turkish Airlines did not comment on the reasons for the decline in international traffic, but we would not be surprised to learn that the change was due to operational issues surrounding Turkish’s move from ISL to IST. Turkish carried out its first operations from IST in February, but the shift has been gradual, with the carrier initially keeping its freighter services at Atatürk and only utilizing the belly hold of passenger aircraft for cargo at IST. However, in early April, Turkish announced that its move to IST was complete, indicating that most April cargo traffic moved through the carrier’s new IST hub, and that perhaps there were some impacts to cargo operations during its first month of complete operations at the airport. 

For more on what may be behind the problems at IST, continue to page 2.

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