İstanbul’s Atatürk Airport, closed to commercial air traffic since 2019, has been used for 90,693 flights by presidency aircraft and private jets, the transportation minister has disclosed in response to a parliamentary question posed by an opposition lawmaker, Bold Medya reported on Wednesday.
Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), submitted a parliamentary question about how Atatürk Airport has been used since it was closed to commercial aviation.
Atatürk Airport had been the primary airport in İstanbul before the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) decided to build a third airport in the city. It was closed on April 7, 2019 with the opening of the larger, $12 billion İstanbul Airport, though with much controversy.
Later, the government decided to build a pandemic hospital at the old airport, destroying two expensive runways in the process.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had announced that they would build a “nation garden” in its place, but no move has ever been made in that direction. Rather, it was used primarily for flights of very important and commercially important persons (VIPs and CIPs), according to Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu, who answered Tanal’s parliamentary question.
Karaismailoğlu argued that the pandemic hospital, built in the southern part of the airport, does not pose any security risks for the flights made using runway 05/23 as per applicable circulars.
The minister declined to comment on the airport’s profits as well as statistics on the airplanes of the presidency, private persons and companies using the airport.
“No staff member was laid off after Atatürk Airport was closed to scheduled flights, and they have been employed at other airports,” Karaismailoğlu said.
The government’s decision to shut down Atatürk Airport had created much controversy at the time, as experts and critics said the new airport was constructed in an area geographically inappropriate for such a facility and that adding several runways at Atatürk would be sufficient manage the air traffic in İstanbul.
The government had also been accused of seeking to construct the new airport for the financial gain of the pro-government businesses that were awarded the tenders for the airport’s construction.