Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is opening what he claims will eventually become the world’s largest airport on the 95th anniversary of Turkey’s establishment as a republic.
Tens of thousands of workers have been scrambling to finish the airport to meet Mr Erdogan’s 29 October deadline.
However, its launch on Monday is symbolic with only limited flights beginning days later and a full move expected at the end of the year.
Istanbul New Airport, on the shores of the Black Sea, will serve 90 million passengers annually in its first phase.
At its completion in ten years, it will occupy nearly 19,000 acres and serve up to 200 million travellers a year with six runways. That’s almost double the traffic at world’s biggest airport currently, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson.
The airport’s interiors nod to Turkish and Islamic designs and its tulip-shaped air traffic control tower won the 2016 International Architecture Award.
It also uses mobile applications and artificial intelligence for customers, is energy efficient and boasts a high-tech security system.
All aviation operations will move there at the end of December when Istanbul’s main international airport, named after Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is closed down. Ataturk Airport now handles 64 million people a year.
On the Asian side of the city, Sabiha Gokcen Airport handled 31 million passengers last year. It will remain open.
Mr Erdogan is expected to announce the official name of the new airport, part of his plan to transform Turkey into a global player.
The Dev-Yapi-Is union has identified 37 worker deaths at the site and claimed more than 100 dead remain unidentified.
Turkey’s Ministry of Labour has denied media reports about hundreds of airport construction deaths, saying in February that 27 workers had died at the site due to “health problems and traffic accidents”. It has not commented since then.
Airport workers in September began a strike against poor working conditions, including unpaid salaries, bedbugs, unsafe food and inadequate transport to the site. Security forces rounded up hundreds of workers and formally arrested nearly 30, among them union leaders.
The company said it was working to improve conditions.
Mega-projects in northern Istanbul like the airport, the third bridge connecting Istanbul’s Asian and European shores and Mr Erdogan’s yet-to-start plans for a man-made canal parallel to the Bosporus strait are also impacting the environment.
The environmental group Northern Forests Defence said the new airport has destroyed forests, wetlands and coastal sand dunes and threatens biodiversity.
These projects are spurring additional construction of transportation networks, housing and business centres in already overpopulated Istanbul, where more than 15 million people live.
The five Turkish companies that won the $29bn (£20bn) tender in 2013 under the “build-operate-transfer” model have been financing the project through capital and bank loans. IGA will operate the airport for 25 years.
Financial observers say lending has fueled much of Turkey’s growth and its construction boom, leaving the private sector with a $200bn debt.
With inflation and unemployment in Turkey at double digits and a national currency that has lost as much as 40 per cent of its value against the dollar this year, economists say Turkey is clearly facing an economic downturn.
However, the airport consortium hopes the world’s growing aviation industry will generate both jobs and billions of dollars in returns, Idependent reports.