Turkish Airlines chairman
Ilker Ayci discusses:
• Demand recovery
• Growth plans with
new Istanbul airport
• Laptop ban
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.
“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.
WHAT LEVEL OF GROWTH IS ON THE HORIZON FOR
Turkish 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.
HOW HAS DEMAND RECOVERED AFTER LAST YEAR’S
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 per-
ception. Right now, we’re all working on this
perception. I can assure you Istanbul is on the
right track. Last May, we organized the Euro-
League basketball Final Four in Istanbul, and
we organized a perfect tournament. We are or-
ganizing international tournaments in Istanbul,
international conferences and so many fashion
events, media events, cultural events as well
as business events. In Istanbul, the load fac-
tor is increasing, and the hotel rooms are get-
ting much more full. We’re so happy to see that
everybody’s coming back. We are seeing some
vulnerabilities and some new challenges. Secu-
rity 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 support-
ing Open Skies and liberal policies.
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF THE NEW ISTANBUL AIRPORT?
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.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES ARE YOU EXPLORING?
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.
WHAT’S YOUR ALLIANCE STRATEGY?
Star 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.
HOW DID THE NOW-LIFTED U.S. LAPTOP BAN
It 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 at their final destination. We carried more than 81,000 devices in 103 days.
Turkish Airlines Pushes
Forth with Aggressive
“In terms of
the crime rate,
Istanbul is a great
city, but what
happened last year