Just a few weeks ahead of the grand opening of Istanbul’s new mega-hub, Aycı asserted that his airline would continue pushing forward to retain its title as the largest in the world.
The Istanbul-based carrier currently flies to 199 international and 42 domestic destinations—more than any other worldwide. And it is not planning on stopping its expansion any time soon.
In fact, during what seemed an innocuous exchange of jokes, Australian anchor and BBC journalist Aaron Heslehurst asked Aycı whether Turkish Airlines had any plans of flying non-stop to Sydney.
The Chairman gave a surprising reply. In front of a crowd of 900 attendees at the annual Turkish Airlines Corporate Club conference in Istanbul, Aycı asked his network chief, “Tell me, right now, when can we start flying nonstop to Sydney?”
The manager said that June 2019 was ‘the best time’ to launch the route. The Chairman agreed and stated that it is going to happen.
However, the likelihood of seeing Turkish Airlines fly nonstop from Istanbul to Sydney is not high. The distance between the two airports is roughly 9,300 miles (14,950km)—about 300 miles (480km) longer than Qantas’s current Perth-London service, which takes almost 18 hours of flying time.
The distance from Istanbul to Sydney, therefore, lies well beyond the range of the 787-9. It is possible that the airline might consider flying to Sydney via an intermediate destination.
Asked for an official confirmation, Turkish Airlines representatives said that they couldn’t comment further.
The Turkish carrier is expecting to take delivery of 30 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, an order that was confirmed by Boeing in early March.
The first six planes will arrive in Istanbul next year (with the first confirmed for June 2019), followed by 14 in 2020, 10 in 2021, 12 in 2022, 11 in 2023, and seven in 2024.
In addition to the Dreamliners, the Turkish flag carrier has 30 Airbus A350-900s on order.
During the conference, Aycı noted that the fleet would grow by 165 narrow-bodies (Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 MAX family planes), 60 wide-bodies, and some additional freighters—adding up to 400 aircraft by 2025.
“The aviation industry is like a Formula 1 race,” he said. “You need to be in the pole position, to understand the changing dynamics and passenger expectations. With 75 million passengers expected in 2018, we need the best planes
With revenues increasing by 30% compared to the same period last year, the airline’s net profits climbed to US$258 million during the first half of 2018.
The Turkish flag carrier continues to be one of the most profitable in the world, backed by load factors that saw an increment of 4.3% during 2017, reaching 80.4%—the highest in its history.
The BBC’s Aaron Heslehurst questioned the airline’s ability to turn a profit on such an extensive network, most specifically on routes of a secondary nature.
Turkish Airlines flies to a myriad of secondary cities, such as Caracas (via Havana), Bogotá (via Panama City), and Buenos Aires (via São Paulo).
“I can’t say that they’re all profitable,” Aycı confessed. “To make them profitable, we rely on the talent of our staff.”
The Chairman explained that his airline’s fleet structure enables a more diverse choice of configurations depending on the market it is serving.
Most of its Airbus A330-200/300s have different cabin configurations—with either fewer or more Business Class seats than others, for instance. These are often deployed to routes serving secondary cities.
“We need to be careful with choosing the right plane for each destination,” the Chairman explained. “Our revenue management and scheduling team studies, forecasts, and decides depending on many variables.” In the end, our bottom line shows that we have a record in profitability and load factors of over 80.4%.”
New Istanbul Airport: A Pain in the Neck
The bigger issue and most attractive topic discussed during the conference was the imminent opening of Europe’s largest mega hub, the Istanbul New Airport, set to open on October 29.
Chairman Aycı confessed that planning the move to the Istanbul New Airport has been “a pain in the neck.”
And that might be an understatement. The airline is basically planning to undertake the world’s largest asset move, from the current Atatürk to the Istanbul New Airport, almost overnight. The distance between the two locations is 35km (22mi).
Atatürk Airport (currently the 5th busiest in Europe) is set to shut down as soon as the Istanbul New Airport opens. All the operating equipment will move from the old airport to the new one over a 45-hour period between October 28 and 31. The job will require 15,000 vehicles and 5,000 trucks.
“A documentary will be shot,” said Aycı. “After we normalize everything, we’re going to look back at it and say, ‘We must have been crazy. Did we really do this?’”
The New Istanbul Airport will give Turkish Airlines 43 of its 77 gates, as well as 15 of 28 baggage carousels during the first phase of operations.
“It is our duty to support Turkish Airlines,” said Kadri Samsunlu, CEO of IGA, the new airport’s handling and development company. “We need to ensure that they can operate efficiently, making all their connections as easy as possible.”
“We will witness a transfer unprecedented in its size,” continued Samsunlu. “With this experience, we can make people say ‘Turks do it best’. We will carry out three major trials in the coming month for operational preparation. 9,000 people and 10 real planes will be used.”
The new airport will continue growing over the next 25 years until its footprint reaches 76 million square meters. The initial capacity during phase one will be of 90 million passengers. The aim is to grow to a maximum of 200 million when completed.
With six runways, three terminals, and 3,500 airplane movements per day, the new airport will be seven times bigger than Atatürk. It will add 225,000 jobs to the Turkish economy, contribute 4.89% of Turkey’s GDP, and produce over €22.2 billion (US$26 billion) worth of taxes during its first 25 years of operation.
Today, Atatürk airport logs 1,600 daily movements, and its capacity is completely maxed out at around 65 million passengers per year.
In addition, the new airport will have a dedicated cargo section with an additional capacity of four million tons of cargo more than Atatürk’s, enabling the airline to become one of the world’s top-three cargo operators.
However, to get there, Aycı and company need to execute a move never attempted before. “We have the perfect storm coming,” he said. “So, please sit back, relax and fasten your seatbelts. It will be turbulent, but we are prepared for it.”
Aycı confessed that moving into the new airport is not meant as a challenge to the Middle East Big Three (Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad). “We are different from them. We are a bar raiser,” he said. “Instead of talking about the others, let’s talk about ourselves and present our goals.”