Is Istanbul Airport the new Middle East hub?

Courtesy Getty Images

Turkey’s new Istanbul Airport is set to be the world’s largest airport, capable of handling up to 90 million passengers by 2021 with room for expansion to increase capacity to 200 million by 2028.

By comparison, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States – the current title holder – is capable of handling 104 million. Neigbouring Dubai International Airport has a capacity for 84 million, behind Beijing Capital International Airport’s 94 million but ahead of Haneda Airport’s 80 million, Heathrow Airport’s 76 million and Frankfurt Airport’s 61 million. (2016 figures provided by Airports Council International).

The airport was declared open on Oct 29 by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, not all flights operating at the existing Ataturk Airport have been transferred to the new airport – not until the end of the year according to plans.

Mr Erdogan referred to the new airport as the “most important transit location on the north-south, east-west axes, connecting 60 countries and US$20 trillion economies”.

So, is Istanbul Airport the new Middle East hub, overtaking Dubai International?

No reason why not if you consider how geographically Istanbul is positioned not much differently from its Gulf neighbours. In fact, Istanbul, situated in a country that straddles both Asia and Europe, makes a viable alternative considering touristic interest in the region and how it is actually located on the doorstep of the wider Europe.

Already the authorities are encouraged by Istanbul’s growth of transit traffic albeit at the Ataturk Airport, and analysts are inclined to think that the new airport is likely to grow at the expense of other Middle eastern airports including Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi. That is, if Istanbul can ramp up the game to match what these other airports are offering in terms of cost, facilities and service. And, of course, if the volatile political climate in the region can be contained.

The competition will be fierce.

It cannot be denied the Gulf airports have been growing in tandem with that of their home airlines – Dubai/Emirates Airlines, Abu Dhabi/Etihad Airways, and Doha/Qatar Airways. Turkey’s national carrier, Turkish Airlines, is no small player. It operates scheduled services to 304 destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, making it the largest carrier in the world by number of passenger destinations, serving more destinations non-stop from a single airport than any other carrier in the world.

However, Turkish is ranked 18th in the 2018 Skytrax survey of the world’s top airlines, behind Emirates (4th) and Etihad (15th). But that’s still ahead of some major European carriers including KLM (19th), Air France (25th) and British Airways (31st).

Right now, Ataturk Airport is the 11th busiest airport in the world in terms of total passenger traffic and the 10th busiest in the world in terms of international passenger traffic. As of 2017, it is Europe’s 5th busiest airport after London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt Airport and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. The new airport, larger and capable of providing better facilities, should not fare any worse off.

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Same airports in Skytrax’s best ten 2018

The 2018 Skytrax list of world’s top 10 airports is a gentle rejuggling of last year’s list which may be divided into three parts. The top three airports remain the same as the next three, and so too the last three with Chubu Central in the same 7th position.

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Singapore Changi tops the list for six consecutive years, a remarkable feat that according to Skytrax “is the first time in the history of the awards that an airport has won this prestige.” Its closest rival is Seoul’s Incheon International in second place, followed by Tokyo Haneda, which has been making impressive stride in recent years. In fact, Haneda was 2nd last year, and Incheon third.

The other airports in the top ten list are Hong Kong International (4th ), Hamad International (5th), Munich (6th), London Heathrow (8th), Zurich (9th) and Frankfurt (10th).

Changi scored with the best amenities, enhanced by the addition of a new terminal (T4) and the upgrading of Terminal 1. With continual upgrading works and the opening of the aptly named Jewel Changi Airport facility next year – a complex of gardens and more leisure activities – it looks like it may yet again achieve the top honour.

However, Changi is second to Hong Kong for transit and dining, and second to London Heathrow for shopping. It ranks behind Taiwan Taoyuan (1st), Incheon (2nd) and Tokyo Haneda (3rd) for customer service, and much lower in 7th position for baggage delivery. Incheon and Japanese airports score high in these areas. Not surprisingly, Japanese airports score top marks for cleanliness.

Don’t bet on the list changing much next year. Airports are massive investments that take time to materialise, and many of the existing ones are quite content to be functional and hopefully efficient than to be wowing! Yet note that Beijing Captial, which was one of the ten best from 2012 to 2015 has dropped to 34th position.

As appeared to be the order of the day, there is a noticeable absence of US airports with the first mention in Denver airport, ranked 29th. Canadian airports fared a little better, with Vancouver International which was among the ten best for three consecutive years 2012-2014 now ranked 14th but still the best in North America, and Toronto Pearson ranked 41st.

What do Conde Nast best airports have in common?

Yet again – and again – no surprise who tops Conde Nast’s pick of the best airport, or even the top five which are located either in Asia or the Middle East What do these airports have in common?

According to Conde Nast, they stand out “with enough amenities and time-wasters that you might be a little late boarding that flight.” Such frills include indoor waterfalls and great restaurants. In other words, they have to be more than just a fucntional facility for air transportation – however efficient although one must assume efficiency is a key consideration.

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Top in the ranks is Singapore Changi, followed by Seoul’s Incheon, Dubai International, Hong Kong International and Doha’s Hamad International.

Size matters. They are all huge airports. Changi has a handling capacity of 82 million passengers a year. Incheon is adding a second terminal which will double capacity to 100 million passengers annually, and Dubai Intl is aiming for 200 million passengers yearly. Hong Kong Intl handled more than 70 million passengers last year. Opened only in 2014, Hamad Intl is fast growing, recording a throughput of 37 million passengers last year, an increase of 20%.

They are hub airports. Dubai is now the world’s largest airport for international passenger throughput, edging out London Heathrow. Hong Kong Intl is positioning itself as a gateway to Asia in competition with Changi, with connections to some 50 destinations in China.

They are supported by strong home airlines with extensive connections: Qatar Airways (Hamad Intl), Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong Intl), Emirates Airlines (Dubai Intl), Korean Air and Asiana Airlines (Incheon) and Singapore Airlines (Changi).

They are modern with state-of-the-art infrastructure, and are constantly upgrading. Changi has recently added a fourth terminal where passengers can expect hassle-free processes from check-in to boarding without the need of any human contact.

The Asian airports offer fast rail connections to the city.

And, they are all competing to provide the most alluring “time-wasters”. Changi made news when it offered a swimming pool where passengers with time on their hand could relax and soak int he tropical sun. Now that’s also available at Hamad Intl, where you may even play a game of squash too. While Dubai is known to be one of the world’s biggest duty-free shopping centres, Hong Kong Intl is reputed for its great restaurants. Incheon is uniquely Korean with its “Cultural Street” that showcases local cuisine, dance performances, and arts and craft workshops. It also boasts an indoor skating rink and a spa. Hamad Intl too has an exhibit hall for that cultural touch.

Changi comes closest to being a destination in itself where it is said a passenger wouldn’t mind a flight delay. Besides the swimming pool, there are: an indoor waterfall, a butterfly garden, a swimming pool, vast play areas for families with children, and an array of restaurants and shops. And for passengers with at least a transit of six hours, you can hope on a free city tour.

But, of course, all these would not mean much if they are not supported by efficiency and friendly service.

Asian airports dominate Skytrax best rankings

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Not surprising that Singapore Changi clinched Skytrax’s 2017 Best Airport award for the fifth year running, commended for having the best leisure activities. As a hub airport, it is how best travellers are relieved of the stress of travel that will garner an airport favourable ratings. Changi is a favourite transit airport with its array of amenities, restaurants and shops.

What else can we infer from the survey said to be based on 13.82 million responses from 105 different nationalities, conducted from July 2016 to Feb 2017?

The top spots are held by familiar names of the last five to six years – Incheon International (3rd), Munich (4th), Hong Kong International (5th), Munich (4th), Zurich (8th) and London Heathrow (9th).

Incheon was ranked the best airport in 2012 before Changi took over in 2013, and until this year, it was a close second.

Special mention should be made of London Heathrow, which was the world’s busiest airport for international traffic until Dubai took the honours from it for two years now – Dubai did not make it to the list as being among the best.

It would appear that performance consistency is key, yet stagnation can lead to one losing the competitive edge. Changi has always prided itself as being innovative, constantly upgrading and expanding its facilities.

Making strides are Tokyo Haneda (2nd) and Doha’s Hamad International (6th). Tokyo Haneda was ranked 9th in 2013, 5th in 2015, 4th last year and 2nd this year. Hamad entered the top ten list at the bottom last year and made it up to 6th this year.

Besides Tokyo Haneda, there is a second Japanese airport in the list, namely Centrair Nagoya (7th). Tokyo Narita and Kansai Osaka were also ranked in previous years. It does say a lot about Japanese airport management.

It is no surprise that four Japanese airports are ranked among the top ten cleanest airports – Tokyo Haneda (1st), Centrair Nagoya (3rd), Tokyo Narita (5th) and Kansai Osaka (9th). Except for Zurich (8th) and Hamad (10th), this list is dominated by Asian airports, the others being Incheon (2nd), Taiwan’s Taoyuan (4th), Changi (6th) and Hong Kong (7th).

Similarly, the best airport staff service list is made up of nine Asian airports with the exeption of Vienna (10th): Taoyuan (1st), Incheon (2nd), Tokyo Haneda (3rd), Changi (4th), Centrair Nagoya (5th), Kansai Osaka (6th), Kuala Lupur International (7th), Tokyo Narita (8th) and Hong Kong (9th). Clearly service is an Asian strength.

One other Asian airport deserves some mention as the most improved airport – Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport. Will it make it to the list as one of the world’s best?

By bow you have noticed that no airport outside Asia, the Middle East and Europe are listed in this year’s Skytrax top ten/ The only outsider was Vancouver International which was ranked 9th in 2012, 8th in 2013 and 9th in 2014. Yet again, this does not come as a surprise.

Singapore Changi is world’s best airport according to Conde Nast

Courtesy Alamy

Courtesy Alamy

IT is no surprise that Singapore Changi is voted yet again the world’s best airport by readers of Conde Nast. The airport has long been a darling of transit travellers, particularly those who needed a refreshing break for recharge on a long haul or those who wanted to waste no time in connecting to their final destination

If you consider Conde Nast readers’ choice of the top ten airports, Changi gets top marks for its facilities and amenities which contribute to its ideal of being a destination in itself, complete with indoor gardens and a waterfall, open-air decks and variety of restaurants, numerous shops, various lounges for all classes of travellers, a swimming pool and even a free 24-hour cinema. There are also quite nap areas to catch forty winks.

Little wonder that Qatar’s Hamad International (ranked 3rd), Dubai International (5th) and Hong Kong International (6th) are also noted for their shops and lounges. Hamad International has a hotel inside the terminal, which is a boon for travellers with long layovers needing to rest for half or a full day. Dubai International is the world’s third busiest airport but number one in terms of international travellers, and is long known to have the world’s biggest duty-free shop.

A wide network and quick connections are significant features of these airports. Hong Kong International, for example, is a popular regional hub with connections to some 50 destinations in China. This airport is often ranked as one of the top three airports in the region along with Changi and Seoul International, which took second place in the Conde Nast survey.

Proximity to the city and quick access seem to also swing the decision of Conde Nast readers in the airport’s favour.  Tokyo Haneda (8th) is only a 13-minute ride via rail to the city, compared to Narita. It s popularity has increased with more direct services offered by both Japanese and American carriers between Japan and the US. Denmark’s Copenhagen Airport is also a short ride of 12 minutes via train from the airport. And if you are travelling to or from Canada’s Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (4th), it is an even shorter 6-minute walk via a pedestrian tunnel.

Other airports ranked in the top ten by Conde Nast are Helsinki Airport (9th) and Zurich Airport (10th).

World’s best airports: What do travellers really want?

Zurich Airport. Photo courtesy Alamy.

Zurich Airport. Photo courtesy Alamy.

Conde Nast’s latest list of the world’s best airports by its readers throws up familiar names: 1. Changi Airport (Singapore) 2. Dubai International 3. Hong Kong International 4. Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv) 5. Seoul Incheon (Korea) 6. Tokyo-Haneda (Japan) 7. Hamad International (Doha) 8. Abu Dhabi International 9. Zurich International 10. Vancouver International.

Two key factors emerge as top considerations in the voting: easy access and VIP lounges.

Changi, Ben Gurion, Haneda and Vancouver top for easy access. Changi is supported by an army of taxis and the subway train. Vancouver is also directly linked by the subway to the city centre. Ben Gurion is only 9 miles from downtown Tel Aviv. Compared to Narita, Haneda is much nearer to the city.

The other six airports in the list top for VIP lounges – notably First Class and Business Class of the home airlines. All three Gulf airports stand out for their lounges. Emirates boasts direct boarding from the lounges. Besides Qatar Airways’ lavish lounges for premium passengers at Hamad, there are Quiet Rooms for all classes of travellers. So too at Abu Dhabi, besides Etihad Airways’ exclusive lounges, there are 24 Finnish-designed GoSleep pods.

What does the survey tell us about what air travellers really want of an airport?

It really depends on whether you are an arriving/departing passenger or a transit or connecting passenger with time to spare between flights.

Easy access is critical if you have to head to town or from town.

Comfort is important if you have to spend time waiting inside the sterile area. The Conde Nast report may however be too niche on the second aspect in its skewed assessment of VIP lounges which are only available to premium passengers. Most home airlines impress with lavish facilities for this class of customers. The majority of the travellers will have to make do with the common space – not only for resting but also for F&B, retail outlets and other services that airports such as Changi and Hong Kong thrive on. It is the halo effect of marketing prestige.

Conde Nast’s latest list of the world’s best airports by its readers throws up familiar names: 1. Changi Airport (Singapore) 2. Dubai International 3. Hong Kong International 4. Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv) 5. Seoul Incheon (Korea) 6. Tokyo-Haneda (Japan) 7. Hamad International (Doha) 8. Abu Dhabi International 9. Zurich International 10. Vancouver International.

Two key factors emerge as top considerations in the voting: easy access and VIP lounges.

Changi, Ben Gurion, Haneda and Vancouver top for easy access. Changi is supported by an army of taxis and the subway train. Vancouver is also directly linked by the subway to the city centre. Ben Gurion is only 9 miles from downtown Tel Aviv. Compared to Narita, Haneda is much nearer to the city.

The other six airports in the list top for VIP lounges – notably First Class and Business Class of the home airlines. All three Gulf airports stand out for their lounges. Emirates boasts direct boarding from the lounges. Besides Qatar Airways’ lavish lounges for premium passengers at Hamad, there are Quiet Rooms for all classes of travellers. So too at Abu Dhabi, besides Etihad Airways’ exclusive lounges, there are 24 Finnish-designed GoSleep pods.

What does the survey tell us about what air travellers really want of an airport?

It really depends on whether you are an arriving/departing passenger or a transit or connecting passenger with time to spare between flights.

Easy access is critical if you have to head to town or from town.

Comfort is important if you have to spend time waiting inside the sterile area. The Conde Nast report may however be too niche on the second aspect in its skewed assessment of VIP lounges which are only available to premium passengers. Most home airlines impress with lavish facilities for this class of customers. The majority of the travellers will have to make do with the common space – not only for resting but also for F&B, retail outlets and other services that airports such as Changi and Hong Kong thrive on. It is the halo effect of marketing prestige.

Singapore Changi is world’s best airport

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Courtesy Changi Airport Group

Singapore Changi is named world’s best airport in the 2015 Skytrax survey, three years running and the sixth time that it won. No surprise. The airport has been the darling of travellers with its wide range of facilities that include a swimming pool, a variety of restaurants and tropical gardens. For one thing, it is continuously expanding and upgrading to stay ahead of the pack.

Changi handles more than 50 million passengers annually out of three terminals. Although it is not operating near full capacity (66 million passengers), it is spending S$1.7 billion (US$1.4 billion) on a fourth terminal to be completed by 2018 and there are already plans for a fifth terminal, costing an estimated S$3 billion, which will be bigger than the current three terminals combined. (See Changi Airport raises the bar to be the world’s best airport, Dec 18, 2014)

So, said Skytrax chief executive Edward Plaisted: “Rather than dwell on earlier success, the airport continues to innovate and concentrate on making the customer experience in the airport environment the most enjoyable.”

Asian airports continue to dominate the top honours in the Skytrax list, with Changi, Incheon International (2nd) and Hong Kong International (4th) being consistent favourites. Worthy of note is the improved presence of European airports in the top ten rankings: Munich Airport (3rd), Zurich Airport (6th), London Heathrow (8th), and Amsterdam Schiphol (9th).

Interestingly, Middle-East airports which are homes to Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are placed further down in the list. Both Abu Dhabi International (29th) and Dubai International did worse than they did a year ago. However, Hamad International – home to Qatar Airways – made impressive strides up the ladder from the 75th to 22nd position. It calls to question the complementary relationship between an airline and its home airport. But one has to be wary about comapring apples with apples. Skytrax places Dubai as one of the world’s ten best airprots for 50 million passengers and more.