Q&A: inside Istanbul Airport’s post-Covid pathway to recovery

Ilaria Grasso Macola 3 September 2020 (Last Updated September 3rd, 2020 11:37)

In only its first s two years of operation, Istanbul Airport has faced a worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and consequent travel bans. We spoke to Istanbul Airport’s CEO to find out more about the airport’s post-Covid recovery.

Q&A: inside Istanbul Airport’s post-Covid pathway to recovery
Istanbul Airport CEO brings us inside the post-Covid recovery. Credit: Istanbul Airport.

In less than two years since its opening, Istanbul Airport has already gone through so much. The airport was opened in October 2018, reached its full capacity by April 2019 and by March 2020 saw the number of passengers drop dramatically as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As airports around the word resume normal numbers, Istanbul Airport’s CEO Kadri Samsunlu explains what was done during the lockdown and how the airport plans to recover from Covid-19.

Ilaria Grasso Macola (IGM): What is the current situation at Istanbul Airport? How many passengers are transiting right now?

Kadri Samsunlu (KS): The pandemic has profoundly impacted the aviation industry and it has changed passenger needs and expectations globally.

At Istanbul Airport, the number of scheduled flights and passengers traffic increased in the last months. While our April passenger traffic was 31,373, it has dropped to 22,863 in May 2020. The traffic levels increased from 591,035 in June to 1,387,882 in July 2020. Likewise, our air traffic increased from 2,929 in April and May to 20,340 in June and July.

With various countries gradually lifting travel restrictions all around the world, the number of passengers and flights is gradually increasing at Istanbul Airport. With 24 airlines already having resumed their scheduled operations from and to Istanbul Airport, the airport has now restored 168 direct destinations during the pandemic, taking its total direct destinations to 285.

IGM: What happened during the lockdown months, especially to airport workers?

KS: At the beginning of the pandemic, many of the airport staff continued to work from their homes. Also, flexible working hours have been applied at Istanbul Airport due to Covid-19 pandemic.

All operations were performed with minimum field personnel during these unprecedented times. We provided working groups with personal protective equipment, depending on the risk levels they faced while working at the airport.

A dedicated hygiene team was also instituted for post-Covid-19 times to make conformity controls of the passengers.

IGM: When do you expect to reach full capacity?

KS: With Covid-19 travel restrictions easing all around the world, airports are ready to operate 100% and adapt procedures to protect passengers and staff from the potential virus transmission.

Once a solution is provided for the treatment of coronavirus, we would be able to expect a very strong recovery in the aviation industry. We expect to achieve 50% of 2019 levels in 2020 and reaching 2019 levels by the end of 2021. In a period of maximum 5 years, we will meet the long-term targets set prior to the pandemic.

At Istanbul Airport, the resumed passenger traffic has increased in parallel to our expectations, and we expect that we will reach even higher traffic numbers with the resumed routes in August and later on.

Turkey has also a very strong commitment to open the country for tourism. While the summer period will be a bit slow, we are expecting a very good recovery in the final four months of the year.

IGM: In your opinion, how has the current pandemic changed the way airports function?

KS: The global aviation industry has never faced a greater shock than what it is experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. Even though everyone is at a different stage of the recovery process, the only thing clear is that airports will never be the same again.

Moreover, until a vaccine is developed and recognized by worldwide authorities, social distancing measures, health screenings and intensive sanitising will become the norm in every airport.

Every global crisis that has challenged the aviation industry dramatically, from 9/11 to SARS, has left a permanent mark on airports and airline operations. It is so important to take proactive and strategic posture during these times in order to operate appropriately during the post-Covid-19 era.

IGM: Will airports see an increase in the use of seamless technology to avoid contact?

KS: At Istanbul Airport, passenger processing systems will be empowered by the biometric technology sooner with facial recognition technology. Smart cameras will scan and capture the passenger’s biometric data at the conventional check-in desks and CUSS kiosks to use it through the various checkpoints. In addition to these methods, even mobile devices will be capable of getting the biometric data to use it with the system.

Once the required unique ID is created by the combination of the biometric data, flight information and passport or ID card, the passengers will no longer be asked for any document to present during their journey in the airport from check-in to boarding.

These automated and contactless solutions can play a critical role for airports in terms of both recovering from Covid-19 and creating competitive advantage in the longer term.

IGM: Can you tell us about the recent opening of the Istanbul Airport Museum?

KS: We continue our work at Istanbul Airport with the aim of transforming the time spent at the airport into a unique travel experience.

Our goal is for our passengers to experience a beautiful and memorable journey by focusing on art and culture. That is why we opened the Istanbul Airport Museum, which is available to all passengers. This elevates the airport from a global hub with outstanding passenger service to a venue for culture and art, presenting pieces from throughout Turkish history for travellers to explore.

We plan that the Istanbul Airport Museum, serving as a manifestation of the importance we attach to culture and art, will also contribute to the promotion of our country. We will succeed in making a great contribution to our country’s tourism if we can leave a mark on foreign passengers flying from our airport with the cultural values ​​of our country and thus pave the way for these passengers to opt for our country in their next flight.