By Esra Aygin
The opening of the long-awaited new Ercan/Tymbou airport has once again been postponed, prompting the Turkish Cypriot media to question if it will ever be operational and to mock the project.
The 300 million euro airport was initially scheduled to open in 2016 according to the contract. The construction has been going on for exactly ten years now.
Over the years, many different officials announced different opening dates, all of which turned out to be empty promises.
Most recently in August, Fikri Ataoğlu, responsible for the tourism, environment and culture dossier in the northern part of Cyprus, had announced that the new airport would be inaugurated on November 15 – the anniversary of the unilateral declaration of independence of the Turkish Cypriot entity. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was scheduled to attend the inauguration by flying his plane to the new airport, Ataoğlu said.
Before Ataoğlu, back in June, Erhan Arikli, responsible for public works, had announced that the inauguration of the new Ercan/Tymbou airport would be on July 20.
“This man is mocking all of us,” wrote journalist Hasan Hastürer referring to Turkish businessman Emrullah Turanli, who is the owner of the company that operates Ercan/Tymbou and is responsible for the construction work of the new airport.
The airport was privatised in 2012.
“Ercan Airport has turned into a never-ending story,” wrote columnist Erçin Şahmaran. “Ten long years. How can this be explained?”
A myriad of reasons caused the delays over the years stemming from problems in the implementation of the tender conditions, a dispute between the operator and the Turkish Cypriot administration, delays in the Turkish Cypriot administration in fulfilling its contractual obligations and a series of bribery allegations.
The postponement this week was caused by the absence of certain technical equipment including the transformers and the Instrumental Landing System (ILS) vital to the operations of the airport, according to Arikli.
“The airport is physically completed,” he told journalists earlier this week, speaking at a press conference at the construction site of the new Ercan/Tymbou airport. “But we have some technical devices missing. Once these devices are delivered, we will install them in a very short time and open Ercan.”
Arikli said they considered to partially open the airport on November 15, but then abandoned the idea.
“We could have opened it partially, but nobody could really accept this,” he said. “It would not be correct to partially open it after having waited for so long.”
Arikli added that Erdoğan was also against the idea of a partial opening.
The new date given for the opening is “the first months of 2023”.
The new airport will have a 10 million passenger capacity as opposed to the current four million capacity. The airport, which is directly opposite the existing Ercan/Tymbou airport, has been built on an area of 7, 800,000 square metres. The land on which it is built has been bought from its Greek Cypriot original owner through the Immovable Property Commission in the northern part of Cyprus.
The Turkish Cypriot media is also questioning why such a big airport is being built when the north only has flights to and from Turkey.
“They are heralding that the Ercan airport will open,” wrote Cenk Mutluyakalı earlier this month. “But the main question is this: Where is it opening to? They are just building a bigger airport to host ‘domestic flights’ from Turkey. So that two airlines fly to Istanbul or Ankara…”
In June, July and August 2022 some 870,000 passengers used Ercan/Tymbou.
“It is too big for the current circumstances,” confessed Arikli this week. “We don’t have the possibility to use this capacity to the maximum with just the passengers from Turkey. Such a big airport is a luxury, yes… But maybe soon we will have direct flights.”
Arikli said the most important markets in terms of flights to the northern part of Cyprus are the Central Asian and Russian markets via Turkey. He repeated the allegation that a company from a foreign country has applied for direct flights to the north.
In September, Turkish media had reported that the Russian Federation was planning to have direct flights to the northern part of Cyprus. These reports were later denied by the Russian embassy in Nicosia. The embassy told Russian state agency PIA-Novosti it “refutes any negotiations for the opening of a direct air connection”.
In October, Turkish Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu had stated that Kyrgyzstan had made a request for direct flights to the northern part of Cyprus.
And according to a recent report in the private Turkish TV channel CNN Turk, talks with Pakistan and Azerbaijan regarding direct flights are continuing.
For many Turkish Cypriots however, who have heard talk of direct flights to the northern part of Cyprus for too many years now without any concrete development, these reports are hard to believe.
“This has turned into a political show,” says journalist Aysu Basri Akter. “These allegations have been going on for years. They are not newsworthy anymore.”