Recently Istanbul airport (IST) was relocated from Atatürk over 2 days. Munich Franz Josef Strauss (MUC) was also moved overnight from Munich Riem. Doesn't it cause chaos, since most employees are new to the place and equipment, work procedures are not well established? E.g. some people do not have badges with correct security clearance.

Why not do it gradually over longer time? Move airline by airline -- smaller first, bigger later.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Commented Apr 11, 2019 at 6:35

4 Answers 4


Gradual relocation essentially mean having to staff and equip nearly two full airports during the transition period. It is also annoying for the travelers that want to transfer planes and need to relocate to the other airport. They would then need to get transported to or from the new location and through security again unless a small short hop flight is established during the transition. In IST's case it's 35 km distance between the old and new location.

Having two busy airports close to each other is also a bigger challenge for air traffic control than a really busy one and a calm one.

The solution to the issues you mention can be solved by thorough preparation. Like making sure all the old badges work (or having the new ones passed out as they come in for their first day at the new location), make sure everyone knows where they need to report for work in the new location. Perhaps having some extra trouble shooters on hand to fix teething issues.

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    $\begingroup$ Incidentally, the distance between the old and new Munich airports is also ~35 km (by road). $\endgroup$
    – rob74
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 13:02

Moving airline by airline doesn't help that much:

  • You still have the same chaos, just on a per-airline basis.
  • The airports you mention are dominated by large carriers that have turned them into hubs (Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa). Even if you move all the other airlines one by one, you still have much of the pain of the big move when you move the largest airline.

And it has disadvantages:

  • Connections: A large percentage of traffic through these hub airports are connecting passengers, and thanks to airline alliances and partnerships, many are connecting between flights from different airlines. Very few passengers (and even fewer high-paying business travelers) will willingly break their journey to go for a drive across a famously traffic-congested city to change airports. Customers will abandon your airport and fly other routes while this is going on.
  • Equipment: When Denver International Airport moved, there was a massive overnight caravan "of more than 10,000 baggage carts, plane tugs, fire engines, catering trucks, de-icing machines and untold truckloads of tickets, tags and gift shop sundries" to the new airport. A similar operation occurred in Istanbul. If both airports must operate simultaneously, a fleet of equipment must be maintained at both airports during the overlap period. Much of this equipment is expensive, long-lasting, and will be difficult to sell or dispose of after the old airport is closed down.
  • Staff: There's not an exact linear relationship of airport staffing to the number of flights. Many staff may work for contracted ground handling companies and serve flights from more than one airline. They can't be in two places at once.

This is still done to a limited extent though. Turkish Airlines operated a few flights out of New Istanbul Airport for several months prior to the big move, which allowed them to test systems and familiarize staff with the new airport. Some of these disadvantages can be mitigated by limiting the number of flights and choosing them strategically.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the connections point. Passengers don't like having to make their way to the other side of the city because their inbound flight went to one airport, but their outbound flight moved to another. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 22:16
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    $\begingroup$ I'm surprised that gift shop contents were part of the overnight shift in Denver. I'd've expected that stores could be largely filled in advance at the new locations and then have their remaining inventory sent to the new location's stock room after the main rush. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Zach, that's fasicnating about the "overnight caravan" - good one! $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 13:13

Gradually moving between airports is a living nightmare for connecting travelers.

Exactly that was done at Montreal Mirabel airport, a fabulous, spacious new replacement airport for Montreal Dorval (Trudeau). Montreal used to be Canada's main international hub. International flights were banned from the old airport, as incentive for airlines to move all operations to Mirabel. But they lacked the political strength to fully close the old airport, and never finished the high-speed-rail connection (or even highways) to Mirabel. Passengers needed to take an hourlong bus ride and re-clear security. This was so irksome that instead of consolidating at Mirabel, operators simply sent their international flights to Toronto instead, making it Canada's main hub.

They lost so many flights that Montreal didn't need two airports anymore, and they consolidated back at Trudeau. Mirabel's main terminal was scrapped and it's a race track now. A few cargo operations remain.

Then you have the case of Kai Tak, where they "threw the switch" properly, but due to teething pains, threw the cargo operations back to Kai Tak for a short while.

Then there is Berlin.

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    $\begingroup$ On the other hand, some large cities get along just fine with 2 or even 3 major airports with one being primary for long-haul flights and the other being mostly domestic and regional flights. Off the top of my head, NYC, London, Chicago, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, Dallas, Houston, Washington, D.C., and Bangkok all work that way. Granted, the NYC airports aren't exactly an example of efficiency, but that's because each of them lacks sufficient space to build more runways, not because of failing to combine operations. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Or Los Angeles, with 5. Yeah, NYC seriously needs to do the Mirabel thing. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab JKF is primarily international flights while Newark and LaGuardia are primarily domestic, but they're not split cleanly like Mirabel/Dorval were. I can fly IND->EWR->LHR, as opposed to IND->EWR, bus/train to JFK, then JFK->LHR. That would be a nightmare and nobody would use JFK if they could possibly avoid it. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ @FreeMan I had JFK/LGA more in mind than EWR. EWR is more split from the other airports by alliance than by domestic vs. international. All of United's long-haul operations are at EWR and their hub is there. Delta and American have their hubs at LGA and JFK instead with LGA being entirely domestic/regional and all long-haul operations being at JFK. A lot of Star Alliance airlines fly to EWR in order to access UA's route network, while oneworld and SkyTeam airlines mostly just fly to JFK, where they can access American and Delta route networks from JFK or LGA. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab London doesn't really fit your long-haul vs domestic/regional split, either. City, Luton, Stansted and whatever other airports one might consider as "London" (*glowers at Southend*) are domestic/regional, and Gatwick and Heathrow do everything. If you're connecting from a long-haul flight to a domestic/regional flight in London, you'd typically do that at either Gatwick or Heathrow and wouldn't need to transit to another airport. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 17:24

My experience was when KUL moved from Subang (now SZB) to the new KL International Airport (KLIA).

The moving date was declared way in advance; I seem to remember the date was locked more than six months before, and a lot of airlines rescheduled their operations, especially the night-stopping aircraft. Obviously, Malaysia Airlines had to ferry a bunch of planes over, but it was a 10-minute hop and done in the early hours, so it was not much of an issue. Some of the ground equipment was ferried over earlier in the day (of the last day of Subang operations), but everything else was moved over once the last flight of the day was completed. I'm talking motorized stairs, K-loaders, belt-loaders, tractors, trolleys, dollies - the works. It was quite a convoy of flat loaders. Stuff that could be driven on public roads were given temporary permits, so you saw motorized steps and water/toilet trucks on the public highways!

The biggest change was moving from a host (MH) check-in environment to a homegrown common-use system which was integrated with the Baggage Handling System (BHS). The first day's baggage handling was chaos, with a lot of bags not making their flights. A lot of items can't be duplicated, not only in terms of equipment but also in manpower, and it is easier to make a clean cut and manage the problems for a 24-hour period than drawing the pain out over a period of weeks.

  • $\begingroup$ OK but only your last sentence actually answers the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 17:41

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