• Istanbul airports continue to grow. The city will likely receive more than 100 million passengers in 2023, and not for the first time.
  • The city’s two airports (Istanbul Airport (It is and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW)) complement each other, primarily serving full-service O&D and transfer passengers and low-cost O&D passengers, respectively.
  • Istanbul will once again join a select club of Asian cities, Europeand North America that handle 100mppa, or have done so in the past.
  • The 100mppa club includes atlanta, bangkok, Beijing, chicagoIstanbul, London, Los Angeles, Moscow, New York, Paris and Tokyo. Not everyone will still be a member in 2023… Dubai could join too.

Istanbul airports have experienced strong passenger growth throughout this century

The two airports that serve Istanbul, TürkiyeChina’s largest city and the country’s economic, cultural and historical center, collectively welcomed 78.6 million passengers in the nine months ended September 30, 2023, representing a year-on-year increase of 17.8%.

The total in primary Istanbul Airport (IST), on the western (European) side of the city and which replaced Atatürk Airport in 2019, was 58.0 million (+21.7% year-on-year), while in the Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) on the eastern (Asian) side, the growth level was +22.7% year-on-year, up to 27.7 million.

These three airports reported consistent, high levels of passenger growth over the 21 years.street century, and especially SAW, which in the 11-year period between 2009 and 2019 recorded growth every year, reaching 72% in 2010. The lowest increase was 4.2% (2019) and was in double digits during seven of those 11 years – one of the most impressive growth records in Europe.

Passenger traffic growth was also impressive at the former Atatürk Airport, reaching +20.6% in 2012, although overall growth did not reach the same levels as at SAW and there was only one year of “negative growth” (-1. 5%) in 2016.

The new Istanbul Airport It opened in mid-2019, but was then thrown directly into the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Since then it has seen growth, averaging 52% (2021/2022/January-August-2023).

Traffic at both existing airports comprises point-to-point (O&D) traffic and transfer traffic, with transfers being a larger part of the activities at IST, which is the base of operations for Turkish airlines.

The total number of passengers could rise to 116 million in 2023

If those growth rates are maintained for the rest of 2023, that would suggest that IST will end 2023 with 78,480,000 passengers and SAW with 37,750,000, for a total of 116,230,000, the highest ever achieved collectively by two Istanbul airports .

This would easily put the city back in the “100 million passengers per year” club. This is a term first coined by CAPA – Aviation Center in 2015 to identify those cities worldwide where a single commercial airport or a combination of them totals more than 100 million in a year.

It would not be the first time that Istanbul has achieved that status, which is granted to a small number of cities around the world, as detailed below.

The city handled 102.1 million passengers in 2018, the first time the 100 mppa barrier was exceeded, and then 103.6 million in 2019, with traffic divided between three airports.

The numbers then plunged in the two main years of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021, to 40 million and 62 million respectively, before recovering to 95.3 million in 2022.

Considering each of the two airports individually, IST growth between 1Q2023 and 3Q2023 was greater in the international segment (+23.7%) than in the domestic segment (+16%). This was to be expected, as international traffic continued to grow overall “after COVID-19.”

However, although domestic cargo tonnage grew by 10%, international tonnage fell by -3%, leaving an overall drop of -1.9%.

Aircraft movements increased globally by 21.9%, with the increase in the international segment being slightly higher than that of the domestic segment.

Some signs that the propensity for ‘revenge trips’ is decreasing

Total capacity is currently (week commencing 23 October 2023) 12.2% higher than in the corresponding week in 2019, although the difference has been greater than in early 2023, and also during the summer and fall 2022. The slowdown may be due to the weakening of the “revenge travel” philosophy evident in many other countries, coupled with concerns about the economy and worsening global tensions in general.

IST is predominantly an international airport (79.0% of capacity), and the leading airline by a wide margin, using the capacity measure, is Turkish airlines, with 79.9%. This predominance rises to 98.9% on domestic flights, the closest thing to a monopoly that any airline of its size achieves.

National airlines represent 80.1% of the capacity and only 19.9% ​​is occupied by foreign airlines.

IST is a full service airport

IST is largely a full-service airport, with 95.7% capacity in that category and a low cost of just 3.2%.

As CAPA – Aviation Center As you have noted in the past, IST functions as a transfer airport, where Turkish airlines stands out, with its network of routes of the sixth freedom. Only 13.3% of capacity corresponds to non-aligned airlines.

The route network map below demonstrates the global reach of IST.

A recent CAPA – Aviation Center report – OAG megahubs: Heathrow is better connected, Kuala Lumpur appears, Dubai is missing – identified IST as the seventh airport with the largest international connection in a OAG survey, with Australasia the only region disconnected.

SAW is more geared toward local travel, with an emphasis on low cost.

He Sabiha Gokcen Airport (SAW) is a different beast, even if some of the metrics in the performance statistics from 1Q2023 to 3Q2023 were similar to those of IST.

In that period, international passenger growth (+29.8%) once again exceeded domestic growth (+15.9%), as did aircraft movements (+18.7% vs. +9.4% national).

Cargo tonnage increased in both segments, up to +10.8% in total.

Differences between SAW, compared to IST, include greater equality between international (55.0%) and domestic (45.0%) capacity, and an even smaller proportion of seats allocated to foreign airlines (4.4%). .

That means Pegasus Airlines is the main airline, with 66.9% of the capacity, but Turkish airlines has 28.7%, leaving less than 5% for other airlines.

Overall, low cost represents almost 69.3% of capacity, compared to 3.2% at IST, and 70.6% is from non-aligned airlines, while at IST the figure is 13.3% .

The route network in SAW is shown in the following table.

Therefore, the two are differentiated because IST is the transit and long-haul airport that attracts international and full-service airlines, while SAW is built around a smaller, more local route and air base, and is more focused on economical trips.

They jointly offer, although independently owned, a complete bat Man & Robin-like duo. Each has its own niche market, but comprehensively meets the full range of travel needs of the indigenous population and the broader international external community. And they do so more rationally than, say, London, the world’s most interconnected city (which has six commercial airports), Los Angeles (which has five), and New York (three).

Istanbul is one of the few cities that has yet reached the 100 million air passengers per year club.

It was previously mentioned that Istanbul is one of the few cities that have been members of the 100mppa club, and are about to become so again.

The table below shows other cities that hold that title now, have held it in the past, or are likely to hold it in 2023, based on growth rates so far (mainly from January 2023 to August 2023).

city ​​and airports

Expected number of passengers

calendar year 2023,

based on growth rate in the first eight months

from 2023

Year in which 100mppa

first achieved


(Capital and Daxing)


2018 (capital only)


(Heathrow, London, LondonCity, London, south)


Before 2009


(Charles de Gaulle, orlyBeauvais)




(JF Kennedy, The guard, Newark Liberty)


Before 2008


(O’Hare, Halfway)



The Angels

(International, Long BeachJohn Wayne Orange County, Hollywood-BurbankOntario)




(Haneda, Narita, Ibaraki)




(International, Al Maktoum) *







(Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, Vnukovo, Zhukovsky)

No calculable figure due to lack of precise data



(Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang)