What do most visitors see first and last in a city? The airport. The need for efficient and accessible air travel is of even greater importance when a city plans for the Olympics and Paralympics. After last summer’s London Olympic Games, over 116,000 passengers flew out of Heathrow airport and 70,000 out of Gatwick in a one-day exodus. This surge of arrivals and departures surrounding the Games calls for an extensive amount of legwork by Olympic planners. Recognizing this need, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requires for applicants to submit detailed plans around airport capacity and transportation networks during the bid process.
While the first phase of the IOC candidature application for the Olympics devotes a section to air travel, the second phase goes into greater depth. The file for candidate cities requires charts of information on airfare. The questions focus on everything from an airport’s existing capacity and number of terminals and gates to the specific distances between the airport(s) and Olympic Villages. Cities must define projections for improvements, construction timelines, flight networks—international and domestic—as well as means of financing the projects.
Looking back to recent Games, a few examples of host cities that followed through on their bid commitments to enhance airport travel are featured below:
- Beijing 2008– Since the Beijing airport’s level of passengers increased by 24 million during the Games, the city’s international terminal was opened to manage the traffic. Stand-by airports were renovated and new airport express roads were constructed. The Games prompted Beijing’s NOC to add disability parking spots and other accessibility features that are still used today.
- Vancouver 2010-Among what are considered the many Vancouver Olympic legacy projects, transport developments servicing the international airport rise to the top for their lasting importance. The new Canada Line—catalyzed by Olympic planning—continues to rush travelers between the airport and downtown areas. Additionally, innovative custom baggage carts created for the Vancouver airport that managed the influx of large ski equipment for the Winter Games have made the overall baggage process more efficient. The same model will be used for the Sochi 2014 Games.
Istanbul has accelerated ambitious infrastructure plans, an increasing priority outlined in BID’s report. A critical part of these developments are related to air travel. Turkish Airlines’ and Pegasus Airlines’ recently revealed global expansion strategies for Istanbul that tie closely into the bid committee’s latest plans for a new international airport. According to Airbus’s Executive Vice President in a Beyond the Rings article, “ ‘Turkey is rapidly developing into Europe’s most dynamic commercial aviation market’, and the national government has recently concluded the tender process for a huge third airport in Istanbul to support the growth. It will feature six runways and accommodate an estimated annual capacity of up to 150 million passengers by 2020, making it the largest in the world.”
In this sense, the bid provides an opportunity for any city interested in hosting the Games—regardless of outcome—to focus on their region’s airfare. A well-organized, accessible, and efficient international airport is crucial in making a city as a global destination.