Tech to fore as world’s lat­est mega-hub opens for busi­ness

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Evans

DUBLIN Air­port last week ap­pointed a Span­ish-ir­ish con­sor­tium to build its new 3.1km-run­way but the long-awaited project — al­though mas­sive in Ir­ish terms — pales in com­par­i­son to what’s hap­pen­ing on the edge of Europe.

Is­tan­bul Grand Air­port aims to be the world’s largest, han­dling up to 200 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year in the next decade, eclips­ing the cur­rent busiest, At­lanta Harts­field, which han­dles 103 mil­lion a year.

The Sun­day In­de­pen­dent joined the world’s me­dia to get a sneak pre­view of the fa­cil­ity, with phase 1 (with a pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity of 90 mil­lion) now open for a lim­ited num­ber of flights. Na­tional car­rier Turk­ish Air­lines is set to move its en­tire pas­sen­ger oper­a­tion to the new air­port at the end of De­cem­ber, the sin­gle biggest air­port move in his­tory. It re­places Ataturk Air­port, which han­dled 63 mil­lion pas­sen­gers last year, in­clud­ing from its dou­ble-daily ser­vice to Dublin.

The scale of the 10.2bn project to build the world’s lat­est mega hub is stag­ger­ing — larger than Man­hat­tan Is­land. It will even­tu­ally fea­ture 143 board­ing bridges, six run­ways, 500 check-in desks and a ter­mi­nal floor area that’s five times the size of that of the Em­pire State Build­ing, with a ter­mi­nal roof 23 times the area of Rome’s Coli­seum.

“Ataturk is a great air­port, but it’s too crowded. There was no sin­gle bit of room left for growth,” said Kadri Sam­sunlu, CEO of IGA, op­er­a­tor of the new air­port. “This is three times big­ger in area so you don’t have that crowded feel­ing once you are here.”

Which is a valid point, with the old air­port creak­ing at the seams, and wall-to-wall with tran­sit­ing pas­sen­gers.

What’s in­ter­est­ing, though, is what it her­alds for the fu­ture of air­ports, and pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence. As an air­port started from scratch, the bells and whis­tles of the In­ter­net of Things can be added at the plan­ning stage.

The most in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ment is trac­ing pas­sen­gers via the IGA app in the near fu­ture.

Pas­sen­gers, the op­er­a­tor prom­ises, can be traced from door to air­port gate, di­rect­ing you to your flight through what will be a sprawl­ing con­course with bea­cons track­ing your phone sig­nal. It’s not a new tech­nol­ogy, hav­ing been de­ployed al­ready on cruise ships, but not on this scale.

Al­though the air­port is 35km from the city cen­tre (fur­ther than at present), the app is de­signed to guide pas­sen­gers to the best routes based on lo­cal traf­fic data. That’s a big im­prove­ment on Ataturk, where my drive from the air­port took an hour and a half in the city’s no­to­ri­ous rush-hour grid­lock on the E5 high­way and just 15 min­utes on the re­turn leg in the early hours of the morn­ing.

The air­port will also fea­ture driver­less cars, which are be­ing tested at the mo­ment, along with ro­bots — 10 in all. Ro­bots have been tri­alled in the likes of Am­s­ter­dam Schiphol and Dubai In­ter­na­tional in the past, but again not on this scale.

It will be home to a po­lice robot to video­tape the ter­mi­nals and pass­ing pas­sen­gers, along with ro­bots to clean the ter­mi­nals, or guide pas­sen­gers to their gates or give in­for­ma­tion, chief in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer Ersin Inankul, told this col­umn.

Given its ge­og­ra­phy, on the edge of Europe and Asia, the bulk of pas­sen­gers will be us­ing it as a hub to con­nect on­wards, with Sam­sunlu see­ing a shift in avi­a­tion east­wards. An­chor ten­ant Turk­ish Air­lines will pro­vide around 75pc-plus of flights, us­ing the air­port to fur­ther ex­pand its route net­work, which is al­ready the world’s largest by city.

Ease of tran­sit will be a make or break is­sue, but the air­port will also fea­ture first of its kind in­no­va­tions. One is end-around taxi­ways, where air­craft can taxi around ac­tive run­ways, speed­ing up move­ments, and cut­ting out de­lays.

The other is a new com­put­erised bag­gage reader, fun­nelling lug­gage through a 42km-long bag­gage sys­tem with the ca­pac­ity to process 30,000 items an hour, and stor­age for 10,800 pieces.

To keep se­cu­rity tight, the air­port will fea­ture 9,000 CCTV cam­eras in the ter­mi­nals. “A cos­mopoli­tan city like Is­tan­bul [Europe’s largest; pop­u­la­tion 15 mil­lion] has 22,000,” said Mr Sam­sunlu.

It’s not such a big is­sue for the Ir­ish busi­ness trav­eller, but if you are park­ing a car, it can also be traced us­ing the smart car fea­ture on the app. Which is handy as the air­port will have Europe’s largest car park, with 40,000 spa­ces, com­pared to 15,000 in Mu­nich Air­port and 2,600 at Dubai In­ter­na­tional.

The one down­side is that the ded­i­cated metro rail link won’t be in place un­til 2020. For now, 150 buses will link the air­port to ex­ist­ing train sta­tions, but I’d rec­om­mend taxi via the new North­ern Mar­mara high­way, which gets pas­sen­gers from the city cen­tre to the air­port in just half an hour.

Cabin crew from Turk­ish Air­lines at the new ter­mi­nals, which opened last Mon­day

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