Erdogan inaugurates Istanbul Airport, one of world's largest

The massive project has been mired in controversy over worker's rights and environmental concerns amid a weakening economy

The massive project has been mired in controversy over worker's rights and environmental concerns amid a weakening economy

The first flight out of the airport will be to the capital, Ankara, on Wednesday while the first worldwide flight will be to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus the following day.

With the opening of the first phase, a total of 90 million passengers can use the airport on a yearly basis.

"The new airport will be the pride of our country and an example to the world", Erdogan said at a lavish opening ceremony featuring several heads of state.

"Future ways of travelling: Istanbul New Airport", read the page.

"Istanbul is a lovely jewel between two seas. that's why we called [the airport] Istanbul", he told the participants of the ceremony, which coincided with the 95th anniversary of the Turkish Republic. Samsunlu, the airport executive, said an "airport city" for innovation and technology would also be built. The current main worldwide airport, Ataturk, will continue limited operations under that name, he said, adding that most of Ataturk would eventually be shut down and turned into a public garden - a rare concession to those who've protested a building boom that's made most of Istanbul into a tree- and park-deprived concrete desert.

The 5-company consortium Istanbul Grand Airport, which built the airport and will run it for 25 years, said 36,000 workers completed the first phase of the project in 42 months.

In a reversal, Erdogan said the old airport would remain open for non-commercial flights, aviation fairs and other activities.

The "entire business" at Ataturk - including planes and equipment - will be moved to the new airport over a 45-hour period after the "hard opening" at the end of the year, Samsunlu added.

By year's end, the new airport will be able to handle up to 90 million passengers annually, ranking it in the world's top five.

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After that point, Ataturk airport would be closed to passenger traffic, and continue as a private airfield until its current lease expires in 2021.

"Moreover, 80 Eiffel Towers could be constructed with the steel of 640,000 tons used in the construction". That would make it three times the size of Ataturk.

"With the operation of Istanbul Airport, European air space will have to be restructured", he said, adding that he expected it to be used for a large number of intercontinental flights.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: "With this airport, we are furthering our country's key role in the integration of global economies".

Other massive projects include a third bridge over the Bosphorus Strait connecting Istanbul's Europe and Asia sides, opened in 2016, and a man-made canal to relieve pressure on the strait.

Tens of thousands of workers have been scrambling to finish the airport to meet Erdogan's October 29 deadline.

"The prestige project has been marred by reports of accidents and arrests of protesting workers", said Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch, which cited at least 38 workplace deaths over the past three years.

The new airport has been plagued with controversy over working conditions after the labour ministry announced February that dozens of workers had died since the launch of construction in 2015 with hundreds of protestors detained in September. The unions say the real number is much higher.

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