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More than a year after a deadly terrorist attack in
Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, Turkish Airlines is in recovery mode, building back
demand that dropped off amid security fears. Even so, the carrier is sticking
to its aggressive growth plans. "We all understood what terrorists ask
from us: to stop us, to change our attitude, to scare us and stop our activities,"
Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci said at the Global Business Travel
Association convention in Boston. "We're not going to stop." He spoke
with BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about those growth plans,
including the new Istanbul airport that will replace Ataturk.
BTN: What level
of growth is on the horizon for Turkish Airlines?
Airlines' [long-term passenger] growth will be on the level of the industry's growth,
which is 5 to 6 percent, but Turkish Airlines' growth on average in the coming
years will be double digit. Istanbul is a natural hub in the region. The geographic
location of Istanbul is perfect, a three-hour flight from 56 countries. In
terms of connectivity, proximity and accessibility, it's a perfect service
center. The new airport will allow us to serve this growth. Through 2023,
Turkish Airlines will exceed 500 aircraft, as well as 120 million passengers.
This year, we're running through 69 million passengers. Turkish Airlines is
continuing to expand to new destinations. We're flying more destinations than
any other airline in the world, and in terms of network capacity, we're No. 4.
We have 302 destinations, and we're flying 120 countries in the world. We've
opened Phuket, and the last few years we expanded our leisure routes:
Seychelles and Mauritius. [We've also opened] Hanoi, Havana, Caracas, Zanzibar,
Atlanta, Panama City and Bogota, and these are all the new destinations that are
allowing us to give perfect connectivity for passengers who want to fly
transit. Our fleet average age is 7 [years old]. We have a very young fleet. Our
business lounges we're expanding. We just opened a new one in Washington, D.C.,
and Nairobi and Moscow, as well. The next target will be JFK in New York City.
In terms of the crime rate, Istanbul is a great city, but what happened last year challenges the perception."
BTN: How has
demand recovered in light of last year's airport attack?
Ayci: With future
reservations, we see a very serious recovery. It will be a very successful
year. The shares on the stock market are remarkable right now and are among the
ones most demanded on the Istanbul stock exchange. The passenger numbers are
good, and revenue-wise, we're also having serious recovery. It's all about
perception. Istanbul today is a safer city than Chicago. In terms of the crime
rate, Istanbul is a great city, but what happened last year challenges the
perception. Right now, we're all working on this perception. I can assure you
Istanbul is on the right track. Last May, we organized the EuroLeague basketball
Final Four in Istanbul, and we organized a perfect tournament. We are
organizing international tournaments in Istanbul, international conferences and
so many fashion events, media events, cultural events as well as business
events. In Istanbul, the load factor is increasing, and the hotel rooms are
getting much more full. We're so happy to see that everybody's coming back. We
are seeing some vulnerabilities and some new challenges. Security concerns are
the major concerns. Of course we are going to compete, but at the same time, we
need cooperation and collaboration. Also, Turkish Airlines is hoping to make
business all around the world, which is why we're supporting Open Skies and
BTN: What's the
status of the new Istanbul airport?
Ayci: It will
open in 2018. Our vision is to go there in the first phase with 90 million
passengers, and then it will increase to 200 million passengers. We'll have six
independent runways and 500 aircraft parking areas, and it will be one of the
largest airports in the world. We have capacity limits, and the new airport will
allow us to continue to grow.
BTN: What technology
initiatives are you exploring?
Ayci: In the
coming years … the corporate passenger as well as the leisure passenger … want
much more personalized services and technological services from us. We're
investing in that area. Turkish Airlines growth on the digital side will be as
impressive as in the past. With the after-sales services, we wanted to [be] much
more personalized. We're working with the new technologies in the [New Distribution
Capability] framework of IATA. Turkish Airlines is one of the companies getting
certificates on it. We're trying to give people much more technological
options, individual options, to personalize their flight experience and get a
better service quality.
BTN: What's your
Alliance is very important, and it's the most successful airline alliance in
the world and we're proud to be a member of it. There are some new trends in
the sector, and cross-alliance relationships are improving. We're trying to use,
as much as we can, the alliance umbrella but also following the new trends in
the sector. We're balancing both.
BTN: How did the
now-lifted U.S. laptop ban affect operations?
was about being flexible and being adaptable and taking care of the
expectations of the passengers. We wanted to make this experience much more
enjoyable to them by increasing the number of movies in in-flight entertainment
systems. At the same time, we gave them in business class laptops and in
economy class free Wi-Fi. We packed successfully their electronic devices and
gave them back in their final destination. We carried more than 81,000 devices
in 103 days.
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