Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen to double passengers to 70m in 10 years

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen to double passengers to 70m in 10 years

On the day of Pegasus’ new service between Venice Marco Polo and Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen. Pegasus is the leading airline at  Sabiha Gökçen with a 63% share of seats and 105 routes in 2019.

“No one believed we would achieve our growth targets,” said Gerald Ong, Director, Aviation Marketing, Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen.  “We expected 30 million passengers by 2030, but we’ll reach 35.5 million in 2019.”’s James Pearson met with Ong to discuss all things SAW.  

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen to double passengers to 70m in 10 years

James Pearson,’s Editor and Chief Analyst, chats about Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen with the airport’s Gerald Ong, Director, Aviation Marketing. As a Malaysian, Ong is personally pleased to have welcomed Malaysia Airlines.

Six new airlines in 2019

2019 passengers are up nearly 1 ½ million YOY.  This is from incumbent growth but also from six new airlines:

  • Malaysia Airlines – the airport’s first long-haul airline
  • Ariana Afghan: Kabul, twice-weekly
  • Jazeera Airways: Kuwait, three-weekly
  • Kuwait Airways: Kuwait, three-weekly (daily in the summer)
  • Royal Air Maroc: Casablanca, daily, summer-seasonal
  • Salam Air: Muscat, twice-weekly

As Ong put it, “how do we react to this passenger growth?”

New runway, new terminal, new metro

“By 2022, we expect 42-45 million passengers.  By 2030, 65-70 million.”   In ten years, Sabiha Gökçen expects to double its passengers.  The second runway and new terminal are crucial, with both set to open in a couple of years.  This is in addition to the sleek extension to its terminal that opened in 2018 with four additional standards.  Its second runway will increase ATMs from 40 to 80 per hour and play a fundamental role in the airport’s development.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen to double passengers to 70m in 10 years1

Ong and Pearson discuss how relatively quickly Sabiha Gökçen is developing its new infrastructure, highlighting, with the inevitable finger-pointing, the location of its coming new runway and terminal.

Additionally, Sabiha Gökçen’s new metro link to Taksim Square will significantly reduce the present journey time to around 40-50 minutes, making Sabiha Gökçen an even more convenient airport. 

More than an airport for LCCs

“Our catchment is broadly separate to Istanbul Airport’s,” said Ong. No wonder that Ong believes Turkish Airlines will create a second proper hub at Sabiha Gökçen.  In 2019, Turkish Airlines has a 30% share of the airport’s seats.  “We expect Turkish Airlines to grow here by 10-13% a year,” said Ong.  It’ll be very interesting to see how the nation’s flag carrier develops here, and which destinations are launched.

International is now the focus

“We capture almost all domestic points in Turkey,” said Ong.  In  2019, 37 domestic airports are served. As such, its focus is on international.  “About 40% of our passengers are international, rising to 45%+ in summer.” The following figure highlights domestic capacity versus core international.

Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen to double passengers to 70m in 10 years

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser. In 2019, domestic Turkey has a 59% share of seats (flat versus 2009, Western Europe 22% (down from 36% in 2009), Middle East 12% (up from 3%) and CEE 6% (up from 2%).

Ong says long-haul will play a role going forward.  “The next two-to-five years will be key for this, and we’re very excited about developments.”  Shorter-haul, Ong expects Saudia, Lufthansa and the Air France-KLM group. Saudia is a natural fit and it would supplement 11 other Middle East airlines, including Qatar Airways.  Qatar Airways now operates thrice-daily to Sabiha Gökçen and twice-daily to Istanbul Airport.

Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Central Asia and the Middle East are all focus areas for Ong.  “CEE is only a very small part of our traffic,” he said.  Poland, Montenegro, Russia and Ukraine are key future markets for P2P but also connecting to the Turkish Mediterranean and to the Middle East.  “Bilaterals and visas remain important, but not slots given our development.”

To the future

It’s unusual for a sizeable airport to be developing a new runway, new terminal and metro link at the same time. But that’s what Sabiha Gökçen is doing. As Ong put it, “we have opportunities everywhere.”


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