Turkish Cargo gains altitude

Anyone with even a passing interest in commercial aviation can surely not help but notice the seemingly sudden rise on the global aviation stage of Turkish Airlines. In a relatively short span of time, the carrier - which dates back to 1933 - has now established a global presence and reputation for quality service - both passenger and cargo - that only last month garnered it a coveted Skytrax passenger award for 'Best European Airline'. Donald Urquhart reports.

Turkish Airlines

A quickening pace of expansion, although not on the level of the Gulf carriers, can perhaps best be characterised now as ‘aggressive’, kicked off in 2008 when the carrier issued one of the world’s largest commercial aircraft purchase tenders at the time, for 105 aircraft valued at US$6 billion. This was given an added boost by investment last year in both widebody passenger and maindeck capacity as the Istanbul-based carrier moves decidedly further into the cargo realm. With a fleet of 170 aircraft with average age of only 6.5 years, including an existing freighter fleet of four A310-304Fs and two A330-200Fs with three more on order, Turkish serves 185 destinations of which 144 are international. This year the carrier forecasts it will carry 34.8 million passengers and 388,000 tonnes of cargo – an impressive jump of 24 per cent over last year’s cargo throughput of 310,000 tonnes with a cargo load factor of 72 per cent. While largely loss-making through much of its existence as a state-owned carrier, the now stock-exchange listed carrier (49 per cent state-held and 51 per cent openly traded), the carrier’s poignant moment was the commercial aviation crisis of 11 September 2011. Decisive moves by what many industry analysts credit as an entrepreneurial management of the time saw a sharp rebound in 2002 which has led to profitability ever since. The next turning point of course was privatisation in 2006 with Turkey’s government signaling last year it may reduce its share further. In fact, Turkish is the sixth most profitable airline in the world despite ranking farther down the list in terms of passenger-kilometres flown. Uniquely the carrier ranks number eight globally in terms of destinations covered, something the carrier’s CEO plans to make the largest globally by adding another 11 this year and expanding the fleet to 201 aircraft by 2014. So what was behind this amazing ascendency in the highly competitive commercial airline world? “Turkey is different from other places, because we have a nice Minister,” Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil tells Payload Asia with a laugh. Kotil credits Turkish government moves to strip away excessive taxation and protectionism, for creating the environment possible for such aviation growth in the country. Certainly commercial aviation in the country has also benefited from political and economic reforms that have given the country its longest period of uninterrupted economic growth, which averaged six-seven per cent year-on-year from 2002-2007, with growth topping nine per cent last year. Turkey’s steady emergence as a global economic power is pushing its commercial aviation industry to new heights.