A contribution by Ezgi Tulgar, student in business engineering
at the Istanbul Teknik Üniversites, exchange student at ESSCA in 2018-2019.

The new Istanbul airport, which was officially opened at 29th of October 2018, is one of the most featured investments in Turkey. President Erdoğan, who opened the airport, said that Istanbul is not only our city but also the most valuable brand of our country. He announced that the name of the airport will be Istanbul. This airport, which started construction on May 1, 2015, has a capacity of 150 million passengers and cost 10 billion 247 million euros. The company IGA was established on 7 October 2013 in order to build Istanbul Airport and operate it for 25 years.

After this impressive presentation, let’s examine the statements of the airport managers regarding sustainability.

Mehmet Kalyoncu (Board Member at Kalyon Holding and Executive Board Member of İGA) states

“We started off with environmental and social impact assessments of the highest world standards. In an era marked by a rapidly changing technology, the fact that we build the entire infrastructure from scratch, unlike ongoing airport renovation projects in Europe, enables us to bring to life a much more innovative and sustainable airport. With these features, Istanbul New Airport will outperform existing airports in respect of saving and efficiency. We foresee to save power and water amounting to TL 33.2 million annually.”

Ülkü Özeren, İGA Director of Environment and Sustainability,

“In fact, climate change is one of the most critical factors that affect and shape the future operations of airports and other stakeholders such as airlines. At İGA, we have been striving since day one to develop global benchmarks in an effort to minimize the impacts of climate change, and we make use of these benchmarks.”

Everything is looking good, a modern airport built on principles of sustainability, responding to the needs of a developing country. But there are some problems behind this glittering look.

The biggest concern about building a new airport in İstanbul was environmental damage. During the construction process, the last natural areas in the north of Istanbul were being destroyed.

The construction area – before and after.

In addition to this damage, environmentalists had concerns about the damage of water resources, air, noise, soil and electromagnetic pollution. This region had important water resources for Istanbul, but most water resources were dried out during the airport construction. It is clear that there will be a lot of pollution due to air and land traffic in this region. In addition to this traffic, the possibility of urbanization shifting to the north of Istanbul is a big concern. Can Istanbul, with a population of already more than 15 million, accommodate more guests? As a result of all these concerns, a lawsuit was filed against the construction. The court decided to stop construction as a result of the environmental report, but the construction continued. In this period, the government said with certainty that they would build this airport. The court requested a new report from the experts.That environmental report was positive, the court returned from its own initial ruling.

Another problem is that the location of the airport is in the way of bird migration. This route, where more than 5 million birds migrate per year, is a problem for both birds and flight safety. The company ,that built the airport, said that we will change the way of migration by training the birds. But I think, there is no need to be a scientist to understand that this claim has nothing to do with science.

In addition to the damage to the environment and animals, the working conditions of the workers have also created polemics. The ‘Cumhuriyet’ newspaper, known for its opposition to the AKP government, wrote that 400 workers might have died in the construction process and the government paid money for the families of the dead workers to be silenced. These allegations were not answered by the government.

During the building process, there was little news in the local media about the workers. This news did not attract much attention nationally, but one month before the airport was opened, workers began to take action. The event that sparked the protests was the accident of the service vehicle carrying the workers and the injury of 17 workers. What were the workers protesting against? They had several complaints: not being able to receive salary for months, bad food in the refectory, being accommodated in inhuman conditions, worker injuries and deaths. They claim that bad working conditions were mainly caused by the rush to open the airport at the specified date. The workers requested these issues to be addressed, but the company they worked with did not negotiate with them. These protests were severely repressed and terminated by the police. Hundreds of workers were detained.

As a result, it is clear that the energy consumption of this new airport will be low. But is sustainability related only to energy consumption? Certainly, there are also environmental, social and ethical dimensions that need to be scrutinized. When we examine the short history of this airport, we find problems with these issues. Perhaps this example shows us how the sustainability of projects of this scale can be managed. Or not.

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