Remarkably, despite the severe plunge in tourism Turkey has been experiencing for several years, with millions fewer tourists from Germany, Austria, the UK, Israel and more recently Russia making Turkey their vacation destination, air traffic in and out of Turkey remains massive. This is due to a decision made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to turn Turkey into the world’s international hub. The country’s location, one part in Asia, the other part in Europe, made this a logical and rewarding move.
There are two international airports in Istanbul: Ataturk, which is about fifteen minutes from downtown Istanbul, and Sabiha Gökçen, on the Asian side, which is about half an hour from downtown. Ataturk, with 60 million passengers a year, is the third largest airport in Europe, and the Turks are already working on a third international airport, to help manage the traffic.
Cognizant of the security threats to commercial traffic in the region, Turkey has invested a tremendous amount of resources in securing both international airports, with several security circles, Walla reported Wednesday. The airports are surrounded by security fences, at the main vehicle entrance there is a police check post, and at the entrance to each terminal the suitcases go through an x-ray scan, while each passenger must go through a metal detector. After the check-in the passenger goes through another metal detector and their luggage is x-rayed. On flights to Israel and the US passengers are also checked before entering the plane.
According to Walla, despite what appears like standard security checks which are familiar to anyone flying in the US, Turkish airports share several weak spots. For one thing, modern airport security systems, like the one in Israel, operate three separate circles which are run separate from one another: a circle securing the airport; a circle for the flight security; and a circle for securing the flight path.
In Istanbul airports, those circles are indistinguishable from one another, creating needless lines at the various check points, and compromising both the airport and the individual planes’ security. Also, there are no snipers situated in strategic locations, ready to take out potential attackers.
But the problem begins earlier, at the bus service hauling passengers from downtown Istanbul to the airport. Those buses don’t check their passengers, and they pass through to the terminal doors without an inspection.
Ataturk’s problems are similar to those of the Brussels airport where terrorists managed to blow themselves up with horrendous casualties last March. Both airports concede parts of the terminal to potential terrorists, where passengers move in and out unobserved.
Walla has speculated that one immediate benefit to the Turks from the thaw of their relations with Israel would be to seek Israeli assistance in setting their security systems straight.David Israel