As Istanbul leverages its location to inaugurate the world’s biggest and busiest airport later this year, it is posing strong competition to airport hubs in the Gulf like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.

Data for the first quarter of 2018 compiled by the group ForwardKeys shows a 21% increase in the volume of transit passengers through the current Istanbul airport.

Passengers changing planes in Dubai and Doha remained the same as last year, and Abu Dhabi fell behind by 14%.

At present, Dubai, which is the home base for Emirates Airline, commands 40% of the transit market share among the four hubs. Doha comes second with 25%, with Istanbul at 20% and Abu Dhabi is at 15%. However, Istanbul shows the most robust growth which experts say is largely due to the expansion of Turkish Airlines, which now has 328 aircraft and carried 60 million passengers last year.

Turkish is exploiting Istanbul’s strategic location between Africa, Europe and Asia to connect non-stop flights to anywhere in the world. There are 60 capital cities within a 3.5 hour flying distance of Istanbul which are among the airlines’ 301 worldwide destinations. The airline has placed orders for 30 Boeing 787-9 and 30 Airbus 350-900s to meet future growth from the new airport.

“Istanbul is located at the intersection of three historic civilisations, and is an air transport crossroad. We want to take full advantage of this with longer-range planes coming into the market, connecting passengers to nearby airports in Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Asia,” Mustafa Doğan, Vice-President Sales for Americas and UK told Nepali Times.

He admitted that congestion at the current airport was a bottleneck, but it would not be an issue after the first phase of the new Istanbul airport on the Black Sea coast, 37km north of the city, comes into operation on 29 October, serving 90 million passengers a year (pictured below). The $35billion airport will have six runways and a capacity to serve 200 million passengers a year when it is fully completed by 2023.

A breakdown of transit passengers changing flights in Istanbul shows that the sharpest increase was for passengers connecting to and from airports in the US, UK and Russia, with smaller increases for Germany and the Subcontinent.

Despite the drop in transit traffic through Abu Dhabi, the airport hopes to regain growth with its mega airport that can serve 85 million passengers a year scheduled to be completed in late 2019.

Despite the blockade of Qatar by its neighbours, Doha did not register a drop in transit traffic, while Dubai showed a slight increase mainly due to the expansion of Emirates Airline.