Impressive growth of aviation in Turkey

It is very important for every country to have a plan, a clear vision of development which takes into account all its competitive advantages and then choosing the right strategy for development. Turkey considers its location as the one of its main strengths. It lies between Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa which puts it in strategically privileged position. That is why, similarly to Qatar or United Arab Emirates, it placed its bet on aviation, becoming one of the regions in the world where air transport is rising in most impressive pace. Turkey has around 78 million inhabitants which puts it on the 3rd place in Europe. Just couple of year ago Turkish economy was growing in double digit pace but now the GDP dynamics decreased to 3 percent in 2014 and is forecasted to reach 3,7 percent level in 2015. It is caused by lack of necessary reforms, less democratic government and instability in Middle East. This might become a future problem also for Turkish Airlines (TK) which so far seems resistant for any obstacles and continues its tremendous growth. In March, the national carrier of Turkey will begin flying to Abuja in Nigeria, Manila in Philippines and Taipei in Taiwan. Those destinations will be added to impressive 262 routes which are already operated by this airline. This gives TK 4th place in the world in this ranking. The record-holding United Airlines is flying to 374 destinations so Turkish still has to put a lot of efforts to catch up its American rival. TK is planning to add another connections in April, like San Francisco in USA. By the end of 2015 the airline estimates it will serve 293 destinations worldwide.

Turkish Airlines A320-232_Aero Icarus_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Turkish Airlines A320-232, source: Aero Icarus, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2014 Turkish Airlines carried almost 55 million passengers which was 13% increase from 2013. To understand correctly the progress the airline made in the past decade, I would like to recall that in 2004 TK carried slightly less than 12 million passengers and was flying only to 73 destinations. The scale of the growth is truly amazing. Airline plans to host 63 million passengers on board of its planes this year. Turkish Airlines is not only international career. Due to the size of Turkey which is about 784 thousands square kilometers and high population it is also important domestic carrier. Among 55 million passenger transported in 2014 almost 23 million were traveling on internal Turkish routes.

IST Aiirport_flickr_airlines470_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Istanbul Aiirport, source: airlines470, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

TK has around 250 planes in their fleet and the vast majority of them are narrowbodies almost evenly split between Airbus A320ceo and Boeing 737NG families. Turkish is committed to the mixed Airbus and Boeing fleet and placed an order for both, A320neo and 737MAX airplanes which will start arriving in 2017. The airline also operates 55 widebody aircrafts which are mainly Airbus A330 in -200 and -300 versions and Boeing 777-300ERs. The number of B77W and A333 will be gradually increased in the next couple of years. There are very strong rumors in the industry that Turkish will soon decide to buy up to 10 Airbus A380 and make use of it on its trunk routes.

Istanbul Ataturk Airport Night Overview_flickr_ItabaSpotter-Bulent Karakkoru:SpotTR_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Istanbul Ataturk Airport Night Overview, source: ItabaSpotter-Bulent Karakkoru:SpotTR, Flickr,(CC BY-SA 2.0)

What is worth mentioning, TK in contrast to Gulf Big Three carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar) is stock-offering company and it is quoted on Istanbul Stock Exchange. This imposes much higher level of transparency on this company which puts the airline in much more difficult and competitive environment. Luckily Turkish government perceive aviation industry and air transport as an important pillar of the nation growth. This means TK is sill in the favorable position in comparison to the others. This expresses for instance in granting TK the vast majority of slots at Istanbul Ataturk Airport (IST) what effectively prevents other carriers from extensively entering Turkish Market. IST despite being modernized and expanded is all the time working on the limit of its capacity and nothing is going to change in the next 2 years. This time TK may spend on increasing its fleet, routes and turnovers in relatively safe and friendly atmosphere. IST lays by the Marmara Sea in the European part of Istanbul. In 2014 the airport handled 57 million passengers and due to capacity constraints and to guarantee further dynamic growth of Turkish Airlines minor part of TK traffic was directed into the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (SAW) on the other side of Bosphorus Strait. In 2014 SAW handled 23,5 million passengers and apart from being a hub for Turkish Airlines it has been a prime base for Pegasus Airlines (PC) and Borajet (YB).

Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800_flickr_Aero Icarus_(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800, source: Aero Icarus, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

PC is the second largest carrier in Turkey and works as an low-cost operator being the main rival for TK at SAW. Turkish is not fully satisfied with this double airport activity in Istanbul, which is bothersome for transfer passengers that is why the bold plans of government to build the 3rd airport in the Turkish biggest city are very propitious for the carrier.


Istanbul new airport designed by Nordic – Office of Architecture, source:

New Airport (Istanbul Grand Airport) will be one of the biggest in the world and its capacity may reach 150 million passengers which is hard to even imagine as the biggest airport on our globe in 2013, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson hosted “just” 94 million travelers. Information about the biggest airport located in Istanbul was hard to swallow for for the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum a ruler of Dubai who finally commanded to unveil precise plans of Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC) massive expansion worth 33 billion US dollars. Its two gigantic terminals will be designed to handle 260 million passengers by the year 2040.

New Airport in Istanbul will be located in European part of the city, just by the Black Sea and will be most certainly completed earlier than DWC. The first phase of the construction will be finished in 2018. The airport will be capable of hosting up to 90 million passengers per year and have three parallel north-south runways. The second phase envisions building of single east-west runway and it will be fully operational in 2021. Third phase will begin most likely in 2019, once passenger throughput reaches 80 million passengers annually. The construction will take 33 months and the airports capacity will increase to 120 million passengers per year. The last phase (if required) will further expand the airport, which then will be able to handle 150 million passengers during one year. When the airport becomes fully operational around year 2018, it will serve as a main hub for TK. Ataturk airport will be closed and Istanbul will again have only two airports.

Turkish Airlines and the aviation in Turkey is definitely the example of great success. However the good times don’t last forever. Middle Eastern and Ukrainian conflicts may eventually have a negative impact for this sector, the competition is though and the democracy is weaker in Turkey. However at the moment TK is going full steam ahead, each year braking records and amaze everyone in the industry. It has a respectable brand which is know all over the world being a great ambassador and icon of its home country.

3 thoughts on “Impressive growth of aviation in Turkey

  1. According to people I spoke with that have a close eye at Turkish Airlines and new Istanbul Grand Airport project, there is absolutely no way the airport will be completed before 2020 and realistic opening date is 2021. At the current speed, Ataturk will get to its full capcaity in two years (including improvements that are currently on the way) which means that Turkish Airlines will have a huge problem with further expansion. That’s why, among other things, they consider opening a secondary hub in Antalya but that’s obviously much less comfortable for passengers and much more costly. In such environment, buying A380s could be a good idea though, beacuse of limited slots.


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