Kılıçdaroğlu and drone maker Baykar in fresh row over former’s Atatürk Airport project

After main opposition bloc’s presidential candidate Kılıçdaroğlu announced now-closed Atatürk Airport in Istanbul will be turned into a center of aviation and space studies should he assume power, drone maker Baykar's CEO Haluk Bayraktar has argued that the opposition will give the airport to a U.S. company.

From left to right: Baykar's CEO Haluk Bayraktar, main opposition CHP leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Baykar's Chief Technology Officer Selçuk Bayraktar (Medyascope)

Duvar English

Main opposition bloc Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate and Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu on April 27 announced that he will turn Istanbul's old Atatürk Airport into a center of aviation and space studies should he assume power in the May 14 elections.

In a Twitter video titled “Atatürk Airport,” Kılıçdaroğlu said the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has wasted such an important facility. “They broke the runways of such a place. They use other runways as private airports for themselves.”

Atatürk Airport, located in the south of Istanbul, was closed to commercial flights after the opening of Istanbul Airport in 2019. Since then, the airport has been open only for maintenance, general aviation, air taxis, business flights and state and diplomatic aircraft.

Opposition figures have continuously emphasized that the move to close down the Atatürk Airport wasted a huge amount of public sources. The old airport is under construction to be turned into a “nation’s garden.”

In the video, Kılıçdaroğlu said “As soon as we come to power, we will make Atatürk Airport the center of aviation and space studies, which will be the dynamo of our aviation and space industry.”

The 74-year-old candidate said “For the establishment and development of the center, we will work with Eren Özmen and Fatih Özmen, the owners of the world-renowned company Sierra Nevada (SNC) in the U.S.. Please guys, Google these names. See how important figures we have in this world. Space enthusiasts know that under the management of the Özmen family, the SNC company has developed critical products and services in NASA's most important projects, and it is a billion-dollar company in the United States.”

“I have one more dream. SNC also builds habitats in space. For example, cancer research is carried out in space. My dream is that Canan Dağdeviren and Eren Özmen work together on this issue for Turkey. I met with Canan Dağdeviren while visiting MIT,” he added.

After Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks, opposition Good (İYİ) Party’s Istanbul Municipal Council member Taylan Yıldız said “After Kılıçdaroğlu's video, many of my friends in the U.S. reached out to me. They're all excited. Even an (announced) vision triggers a reverse brain drain. Very important names in this field said, ‘We are ready to work together.’ As of now, we have already started bilateral talks.”

However, Turkish drone maker Baykar's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Haluk Bayraktar on April 28 criticized Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks and accused him of giving the airport to a U.S. company.

Bayraktar said in a tweet that “The idea of giving Atatürk Airport to a U.S. company, which hosts Teknofest where more than a million young people compete and the world's best National Technology Projects are exhibited... They think that U.S. companies, not Turks, can still do the 'best'.”

Teknofest Istanbul is the Turkish technology and aerospace fair, co-organized by the Turkish Technology Team Foundation and the Industry and Technology Ministry. Teknofest was held at the beginning of September until this year. This year, it is being held between April 27 and May 1, two weeks before the May 14 elections. 

Responding to Bayraktar, Kılıçdaroğlu said in a tweet that “Don't get so politicized, dear Haluk Bey. You are very precious to us as a family. It doesn't suit you to be a party's election propaganda. There is room for all our successful Turkish entrepreneurs in the future. Space is wide enough for all of you.”

Once again responding to Kılıçdaroğlu, Bayraktar said “Mr. Kemal, when your deputies, mayors and some of your alliance partners accused our drones, which put an end to the terror against our people, of being "murderers," you would oppose them and say one word that this allegation is by no means true if we had any values in your eyes.”

Bayraktar accused Kılıçdaroğlu of "making politics" on the first day of Teknofest.

Meanwhile, speaking during the Teknofest's opening ceremony, Baykar's Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar on April 28 said “This place (Atatürk Airport) is not for those who see their future under the control of foreign companies, but for those who see Turkish independence in Turkish youth.”

The aerial drones supplied to Ukraine by Baykar were instrumental in Ukraine's defense against Russian armour and anti-aircraft systems in the first few weeks of the Russian invasion.