Istanbul to unveil new airport, seeks to be world’s biggest

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The new aiport is one of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s major construction projects. (AP)
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Phase one of the new airport is ready for inauguration on Oct. 29. (AP)
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The airport is expected to be fully operational by 2028, with six runways, servicing some 200 million passengers per year. (AP)
Updated 28 October 2018

Istanbul to unveil new airport, seeks to be world’s biggest

  • Inauguration of the Istanbul New Airport's phase one is set on Oct. 29
  • Upon completion in ten years, it will occupy nearly 19,000 acres and serve up to 200 million travelers a year with six runways

ISTANBUL: Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held plenty of grand opening ceremonies in his 15 years at Turkey’s helm. On Monday he will unveil one of his prized jewels — Istanbul New Airport — a megaproject that has been dogged by concerns about labor rights, environmental issues and Turkey’s weakening economy.
Erdogan is opening what he claims will eventually become the world’s largest air transport hub on the 95th anniversary of Turkey’s establishment as a republic. It’s a symbolic launch, as only limited flights will begin days later and a full move won’t take place until the end of the year.
Tens of thousands of workers have been scrambling to finish the airport to meet Erdogan’s Oct. 29 deadline. Protests in September over poor working conditions and dozens of construction deaths have highlighted the human cost of the project.
Istanbul New Airport, on shores of the Black Sea, will serve 90 million passengers annually in its first phase. At its completion in ten years, it will occupy nearly 19,000 acres and serve up to 200 million travelers a year with six runways. That’s almost double the traffic at world’s biggest airport currently, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson.
“This airport is going to be the most important hub between Asia and Europe,” Kadri Samsunlu, head of the 5-company consortium Istanbul Grand Airport, told reporters Thursday.
The airport’s interiors nod to Turkish and Islamic designs and its tulip-shaped air traffic control tower won the 2016 International Architecture Award. It also uses mobile applications and artificial intelligence for customers, is energy efficient and boasts a high-tech security system.
All aviation operations will move there at the end of December when Istanbul’s main international airport, named after Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is closed down. Ataturk Airport now handles 64 million people a year. On the Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gokcen Airport handled 31 million passengers last year. It will remain open.
Erdogan is expected to announce the official name of the new airport, part of his plan to transform Turkey into a global player.
Turkish Airlines will launch its first flights out of the new airport to three local destinations: Ankara, Antalya and Izmir. It will also fly to Baku and Ercan in northern Cyprus.
Nihat Demir, head of a construction workers’ union, said the rush to meet Erdogan’s deadline has been a major cause of the accidents and deaths at the site that employs 36,000 people.
“The airport has become a cemetery,” he told The Associated Press, describing the pressure to finish as relentless and blaming long working hours for leading to “carelessness, accidents and deaths.”
The Dev-Yapi-Is union has identified 37 worker deaths at the site and claimed more than 100 dead remain unidentified.
Turkey’s Ministry of Labor has denied media reports about hundreds of airport construction deaths, saying in February that 27 workers had died at the site due to “health problems and traffic accidents.” It has not commented since then.
Airport workers in September began a strike against poor working conditions, including unpaid salaries, bedbugs, unsafe food and inadequate transport to the site. Security forces rounded up hundreds of workers and formally arrested nearly 30, among them union leaders. The company said it was working to improve conditions.
Megaprojects in northern Istanbul like the airport, the third bridge connecting Istanbul’s Asian and European shores and Erdogan’s yet-to-start plans for a man-made canal parallel to the Bosporus strait are also impacting the environment. The environmental group Northern Forests Defense said the new airport has destroyed forests, wetlands and coastal sand dunes and threatens biodiversity.
These projects are spurring additional construction of transportation networks, housing and business centers in already overpopulated Istanbul, where more than 15 million people live. Samsunlu, the airport executive, said an “airport city” for innovation and technology would also be built.
The five Turkish companies that won the $29 billion tender in 2013 under the “build-operate-transfer” model have been financing the project through capital and bank loans. IGA will operate the airport for 25 years.
Financial observers say lending has fueled much of Turkey’s growth and its construction boom, leaving the private sector with a huge $200 billion debt. With inflation and unemployment in Turkey at double digits and a national currency that has lost as much as 40 percent of its value against the dollar this year, economists say Turkey is clearly facing an economic downturn.
Despite those dark financial clouds, the airport consortium hopes the world’s growing aviation industry will generate both jobs and billions of dollars in returns.
“Istanbul New Airport will remain ambitious for growth and we will carry on mastering the challenge to be the biggest and the best. That’s our motto,” Samsunlu said.


France ready to take Trump’s tariff threat to WTO

Updated 08 December 2019

France ready to take Trump’s tariff threat to WTO

  • Macron government will discuss a global digital tax with Washington at the OECD, says finance minister

PARIS: France is ready to go to the World Trade Organization to challenge US President Donald Trump’s threat to put tariffs on French goods in a row over a French tax on internet companies, its finance minister said on Sunday.

“We are ready to take this to an international court, notably the WTO, because the national tax on digital companies touches US companies in the same way as EU or French companies or Chinese. It is not discriminatory,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told France 3 television. Paris has long complained about US digital companies not paying enough tax on revenues earned in France.

In July, the French government decided to apply a 3 percent levy on revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with more than €25 million in French revenue and €750 million ($845 million) worldwide. It is due to kick in retroactively from the start of 2019.

Washington is threatening to retaliate with heavy duties on imports of French cheeses and luxury handbags, but France and the EU say they are ready to retaliate in turn if Trump carries out the threat. Le Maire said France was willing to discuss a global digital tax with the US at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but that such a tax could not be optional for internet companies.

“If there is agreement at the OECD, all the better, then we will finally have a global digital tax. If there is no agreement at OECD level, we will restart talks at EU level,” Le Maire said.

He added that new EU Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni had already proposed to restart such talks.

France pushed ahead with its digital tax after EU member states, under the previous executive European Commission, failed to agree on a levy valid across the bloc after opposition from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The new European Commission assumed office on Dec. 1.