March 27 - Istanbul Atatürk Airport today posted the biggest jump in passenger numbers among the world's major hubs last year as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Evaluation Commission praised the city's bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
The Commission, chaired by Britain's Sir Craig Reedie, completed its visits to the three bidding cities by claiming that it had an "excellent impression" of Istanbul 2020.
It may have been more or less the same that Sir Craig had said at the end of its visits to Tokyo and Madrid but was perhaps more significant to Turkey's financial capital after its previous four campaigns had all been undermined by a lack of professionalism, including in 2001, the last time an Evaluation Commission had been here to inspect its bid for 2008, which was ultimately awarded to Beijing.
"The IOC 2020 Evaluation Commission has been very pleased to spend time here in the extraordinary city of Istanbul," said Sir Craig.
We have an excellent impression of the Bid Committee, and we have witnessed the strong support that the bid enjoys from the Government, which was highlighted by the presence of President Gül this week.
In what was almost perfect timing, the growing influence of Turkey on the political and financial world stage was demonstrated by the release of a report from Airports Council International, a global trade organisation of the world's airports, consisting of 580 members operating 1,650 airports in 179 countries and territories, which showed Atatürk Airport expanded one-third faster than the next-best performer as it captures traffic from Europe rivals.
Istanbul's near 21 per cent increase in passenger numbers to 45.1 million made it one of only six airports among the top 30 to post a double-digit gain, with Dubai ranking second for growth, with a 13.2 per cent increase to 57.7 million people.
Europe's traditional hubs are struggling to add travelers as a sluggish economy hurts demand and rivals further east exploit their geographical position to grab a growing share of inter-continental transfer traffic.
But Istanbul, the home of Turkish Airlines, is defying the trend, driving home the message that Turkey enjoys a unique geographical advantage, which would help the Olympic Movement.
"Istanbul has a young population which is excited about the Olympics," said Suat Kılıç, Turkey's Minister of Youth and Sports.
"We have 11 million people who want the Games to come to Istanbul and 50 per cent of those people are under the age of 25. Istanbul has been vocal about its ambitions for the Olympics.
"We are a humble city but have a long history as a bridge between different cultures and faiths."
There is no doubt that Istanbul have impressed the inspectors here this week but now the hard work starts.
The cities are free to begin making international presentations, starting in St Petersburg at SportAccord at the end of May.
It was there four years ago that Rio de Janeiro really gathered momentum behind them, a tidal wave which swept them to victory at the IOC Session in Copenhagen.
"This has been an incredible week for us; we have all been so impressed by the diligence, professionalism, and rigorous approach that the IOC Evaluation Commission has taken over these last few days," said Hasan Arat, chairman of Istanbul 2020.
"It has been a wonderful experience and a great learning process on our journey towards hosting the greatest prize of all.
"Istanbul 2020 is now better equipped than ever to deliver on our promises and on our vision."
Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]