By Duncan Mackay

Turkish Airlines planeFebruary 4 - A $10 billion (£6 billion/€7 billion) tender to build the world's largest airport in Istanbul was officially launched today, with the promise that it will be operational if the Turkish city hosts the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics if its bid is successful.

The six-runway airport, which will be built on 77 million square metres of land in the Arnavutköy district of Istanbul, close to the Black Sea coast on the city's European side, will eventually be capable of handling 150 million passengers per year.

That would make it twice the size of Heathrow, currently the world's biggest international airport, and would position Turkey to become a major hub for traffic between Asia, Europe and increasingly Africa.

Flag-carrier Turkish Airlines is expected to make use of the opportunity by nearly doubling its fleet and expanding the destinations it serves by 50 per cent.

The airline, twice selected as the best European airline, posted a 20 per cent rise in passengers last year to 39 million, despite Istanbul's two current airports being stretched to capacity.

It aims to reach 46 million passengers in 2013.

The first phase of consstruction of the new airport is due to be completed by 2016.

It is one of five major infrastructure projects planned in the city as part of Turkey's 2023 Master Plan, the nationwide programme of long-term development.

"The Istanbul 2020 team has continued to learn from our previous four bids; we have listened carefully to the Olympic family and we have extensively studied the successes of London 2012 and other host cities," said Hasan Arat, leader of Istanbul 2020.

Hasan Arat outside IOC headquartersIstanbul 2020 bid leader Hasan Arat believes construction of the new airport will help their hopes of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics

"We recognise that effective and efficient transport is critical for a successful Games - starting with a world-class airport.

"The tender opening this week means that we have passed another milestone on our journey; we will continue to work hard to ensure that our ground-breaking transport initiatives will benefit Olympians, Paralympians and the wider Olympic family.

"Just as importantly, Istanbul 2020 would leave a valuable legacy for citizens and guests by making the city one of the most liveable and accessible in the world."

The new airport is the centrepiece of a massive transport infrastructure plan which has seen an $1.5 billion (£1 billion/€1.1 billion) average annual investment in transport infrastructure upgrades since 2005 and a further $15 billion (£9.5 billion/€11 billion) planned to be spent on projects over the next three years.

These projects will significantly reduce congestion and speed up all journey times for Olympic client groups, Turkish officials claim.

Istanbul 2020 has uniquely proposed hosting the Games in two continents; the Haliç Metro bridge, the Marmaray rail tunnel, the Eurasia Bosphorus road tunnel and a third Bosphorus bridge will all be completed before 2020, increasing the number of Bosphorus road and rail crossings to six, they promise.

Marmaray rail tunnelWork on the Marmaray rail tunnel is due to be completed later this year

"As a President of an NOC and an International Federation, I am focussed on the comfort and convenience of the athletes," said Ugur Erdener, President of both the National Olympic Committee of Turkey (NOCT) and World Archery.  

"I am more than confident that this carefully directed investment in Istanbul's transport infrastructure will enhance our ability to deliver a technically outstanding Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

"Our proposed four competition zones across two continents have been selected to highlight Istanbul's unique location, bridging Europe and Asia, as well as to guarantee athletes an average travel time of just 16 minutes between our iconic venues."

The winning tender for Istanbul's third airport is due be named in May.

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