Etihad latest to split Istanbul operations with Sabiha Gokcen debut

Etihad Airways will increase its services from its Abu Dhabi International Airport hub to Istanbul with the launch of four additional weekly flights into the Turkish city. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier, like its Gulf hub rivals, is introducing a split operation to Istanbul, adding flights to Sabiha Gokcen Airport and complementing its existing daily flights into Ataturk Airport, the city’s main international gateway.

The new flight will commence from July 1, 2016 and will be operated using a narrowbodied Airbus A320 configured with 16 seats in Business Class and 120 in Economy. Etihad currently uses a widebodied A330-200 on its existing daily flight to Istanbul but will switch this to its new modern generation Boeing 787 Dreamliner, configured with 235-seats: eight in First Class, 28 in Business Class and 199 in Economy.

The airline is seeing an increase in demand for flights into Istanbul and this market demand has created an opportunity to deploy additional capacity into Sabiha Gokcen. Airlines do not generally like to split operations in a city due to the need to offer support resources in each location. However, capacity constraints at Ataturk Airport and the location of Sabiha Gokcen mean this is an easier decision to take.

Located on the rapidly-developing Asian side of Istanbul, Sabiha Gokcen has its own point-to-point demand into international markets and has seen growing connectivity due to the arrival of local low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines into the low-cost arena and recent expansion from Turkish Airlines due to capacity constraints at its main Ataturk Airport hub.

The airport is an increasingly popular gateway for visitors to Istanbul and the southern section of the region. It is also well connected to other domestic cities on the Asian side of the city, including Yalova and Bursa.

“Istanbul is a critically important market within our global network and we plan to serve both city airports to support our wider expansion plans. We have seen an increasing number of guests travelling between both the United Arab Emirates and Turkey and we want this trend to continue and grow during 2016,” said James Hogan, president and chief executive officer, Etihad Airways.

The new service has been designed to complement Etihad’s existing offering and the scheduling of the four times weekly service will not only attract local travellers between Abu Dhabi and Istanbul, but also support transfer demand into markets in the GCC, Indian Sub-Continent, Northern Asia, Southern Asia and Australia.

Located where Asia and Europe meet, Istanbul is developing as one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations thanks to its major attractions, cultural heritage and history. Etihad originally launched services to the largest city in Turkey in June 2009 and both Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways have recently grown their own presence in this backyard of rival hub operator Turkish Airlines in recent years.

Emirates Airline launched daily flights into Sabiha Gokcen in December last year, adding to its eleven times weekly operation into Ataturk, offering the only scheduled widebodied link into the airport. It said it was attracted to the split operation in Istanbul as it offered customers “a fresher travel experience, with shorter processing times”, but also “easier access” to the city’s new financial centre as well as to popular outlet malls and thermal spas in the vicinity.

Qatar Airways was the first major international carrier to serve both Istanbul airports when it debuted flights into Sabiha Gokcen in May 2014, over ten years since its first started flying to Ataturk. The new link was initially operated on a four times weekly basis but grew to a daily schedule in October 2014 and a second daily flight was added in March last year.

Passenger demand to Istanbul has increased rapidly within the last few years. Ataturk is a major hub for national carrier Turkish Airlines whose rapid growth has now overwhelmed the airport. In 2014, it was the fourth busiest airport in Europe, recording 56.9 million passengers for the calendar year.

Sabiha Gokcen served more than 28 million passengers in the 2015 calendar year – an increase of more than 4.5 million passengers compared to 2014. February 2016 saw passenger figures rise by 22 percent, serving more than four million people in the shortest month of the year. In the space of six years, passenger numbers have increased by a phenomenal 76.5 percent.

Sabiha Gokcen will receive a second runway, covering 3,500m and costing €1.3 billion – which will be the first runway in Turkey where an Airbus A380 can land. This investment will enable the airport to boost capacity to 64 air traffic movements per hour, explained chief executive officer, Gokhan Bugday.

As overcrowding becomes more of an issue, a new Istanbul airport is being constructed to deal with the problem. It is expected to become one of the biggest in the world, with aspirations to be the biggest air transfer hub in the continent. When completed, it will be able to cope with a capacity of 150 million passengers annually.

The first stage of construction is to be completed by February 2018. Phase one will be able to handle 90 million passengers annually, covering 11 million square feet – making it the world’s single largest airline terminal under one roof. The fourth and final phase of the new airport is due to be completed by 2028. It will be situated around 22 miles outside of the city, but will be easily reached through rail, metro and bus connections.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…