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Global Aviation’s Trendsetter Turkish Airlines Reflections on Rapid Rise and Outstanding Future Outlook

Issue 1 - 2019
In our exclusive interview Mr. Bilal Ekşi, CEO of Turkish Airlines shares insight into the rapid rise of the Turkish aviation industry. Istanbul has now become one of the greatest logistics and passenger transfer hubs of the world. The city connects three continents, has hosted numerous civilizations throughout history, and is a natural hub. The company is launching new international flight lines from Ankara and Antalya, continuing to raise the bar as they develop commercial, touristic and economic relations.
Aviation Turkey: First of all, according to the experiences of a person who has served Turkish Airlines for many years, what would you like to say about your company’s transformation into a global player from a regional airline company?

Bilal Ekşi: In the beginning of the 2000s, a decision had to be made on the future of Turkish Airlines: Should Turkish Airlines continue to function as a regional airline, or should it be transformed into a global player by using the advantage of Istanbul as a natural hub? Connecting three continents, Istanbul hosted numerous civilizations throughout history, it is a natural hub and it is our home. This transformation started in 2003. Without doubt, the vision of our President, “Airways will be the nation’s way” has been an incomparable motivation for the growth of Turkish Airlines as well. The policies and strategic targets put forth as part of this vision paved the way for the two-digit growth figures of Turkish Airlines. These achievements enabled the transformation of our brand into the most recognized brand abroad. With its performance over the last 16 years, Turkish Airlines holds the title of the airline executing flights to the highest number of countries in the world with 124 countries.

Aviation Turkey: You achieved your targets and ended 2018 with a remarkable rate of return. How do you evaluate 2018 in terms of targets and actual figures?

Bilal Ekşi: In 2018 we reached a number of passengers beyond the figures we budgeted. As a matter of fact, as we already projected this achievement, we notified the Public Disclosure Platform that we updated our targets and raised the bar. We hosted a total of 75.2 million passengers, and this figure is almost equal to our country’s population. As Turkish Airlines, we declared a real operating profit of nearly US$ 1.2 billion in 2018. We obtained great achievements in terms of passengers and our cargo income. We reached this success through effective budgetary discipline, the investments we made in the lines with high profitability, rational fleet management and our understanding that values every single dime. All our colleagues have a share in this success. I would like to thank them all once more.

Aviation Turkey: What are your targets identified for 2019 in terms of turnover, number of passengers and profitability?

Bilal Ekşi: We aim to serve 33 million passengers with domestic lines and 47 million passengers with international lines in 2019. While reaching this target, we anticipate an occupancy rate of 81-82%. Our scheduled future bookings indicate that we will have another successful and profitable year. We will be elevating the customer experience to the top level especially with the new flight lines we will be launching at the Istanbul Airport. We aim to break a new record of carrying 1.45 million tons of cargo with our new facilities and the new capabilities that we will gain. We are rising rapidly. Istanbul has now become one of the greatest logistics and passenger transfer hubs in the world.

Aviation Turkey: Turkish Airlines flies to 309 destinations in 124 countries across the world and maintains its championship in the world. What will the new flight lines be this year? How will Turkish Airlines’s competitiveness progress in the global market with these new flight lines?

Bilal Ekşi: Before launching new operations to any destination, we conduct significant feasibility studies. The network contribution of the potential flight line, its conformity with the flow of our timetable, its profitability and commercial potential are taken into consideration during the decision-making process. Istanbul’s characteristic as a natural hub allows us to make efficient operations with the single - aisle aircraft to which we refer as narrow - bodied aircraft. Such that, we have access to 38 countries within a distance of 3 hours, 55 countries within a 5-hour distance and to a total of 1.5 billion people. Hardly any airline company has this advantage and we make all of our rivals feel this advantage within global competition. With our wide - bodied, in other words twin - aisle aircraft, we execute profitable operations with high occupancy rates for rather longer distances. As I mentioned before, all our flight lines feed the network and directly affect the profitability of our company and they are selected carefully. Within 2019, so far, we launched the Uşak, Siirt, Çanakkale and Zonguldak flight lines in the country. Regarding the international lines, the Sharjah (UAE), Marrakech (Morocco) and Strasbourg (France) flight lines we launched will be followed by Luxor (Egypt), Bali (Indonesia), Rovaniemi (Finland) and Mexico City (Mexico) flight lines.

Aviation Turkey: What are your plans for increasing the number of flights in 2019? Within this context, for which flight lines will there be a frequency increase?

Bilal Ekşi: We make use of all the opportunities that may be profitable for our company and will extend our sphere of influence by increasing our passenger revenues in terms of network, proactively. We intend to form a second frequency wave in the Asia - Far East region in particular with providing the solution of the slot problems at Istanbul Airport. For instance, the frequency increase in Tokyo - Japan, the relaunch of the Osaka flight line or the frequency increases we announce at the Hanoi flight line in Vietnam are all the indicators. The new generation wide - bodied aircraft to be included in our fleet will enable us to reach our targets more rapidly. Again, by launching new international flight lines from our capital city Ankara and our tourism city Antalya, we will be maintaining our support in terms of developing our commercial, touristic and economic relations.

Aviation Turkey: What is the current status of the Turkish Airlines fleet? It was announced that new generation aircraft will be included in the fleet in 2019. Could you please inform us on these aircraft that are to be included, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350? How will the inclusion of new generation wide - bodied aircraft to the fleet contribute to Turkish Airlines’ growth strategy and competitiveness?

Bilal Ekşi: We run Europe’s youngest fleet with the lowest average age. Surely, this results in an advantage in fuel costs and there are also the technological features directly affecting the passenger’s satisfaction. Presently, there are 336 passenger and cargo aircraft in our fleet. Our fleet will soon include the new generation Boeing 787 Dreamliner series aircraft in 2019. The A350 series aircraft will be included in our fleet in the beginning of 2020.

I would also like to point out that, as I mentioned previously, on account of the slot advantages offered by the Istanbul Airport, we will be able to place a second wave frequency particularly in Asia and the Far East. This timetable frequency will be possible with the inclusion of such aircraft in our fleet. These aircraft that will both maintain considerable fuel savings in long distance flights and assist us in increasing the passenger satisfaction will significantly increase our network power as well. I can say that we will be continuing to extend our fleet with aircraft that fulfil our needs. In order to compete with rival airline companies under better conditions, it is of vital essence.

Aviation Turkey: Istanbul Airport is positioned as a global hub in the global market. How is Turkish Airlines’ approach to this new airport? What are its targets?

Bilal Ekşi: We completed all our processes from our first flight at our new home until the “Great Migration”. We are improving all areas where we are in contact with our customers. We have high hopes about the Istanbul Airport which is a Statute of Victory and at the same time quite happy about it. The size of our passenger waiting rooms, the number of our check - in counters, and the capacity of our cargo facilities is almost twice as big as that of Atatürk Airport. We will be improving day by day in order to better accommodate our guests.

Aviation Turkey: We know that as Turkish Airlines you attach importance to pilot training. What are your activities and programs regarding pilot training and how many new pilots do you plan to employ in 2019?

Bilal Ekşi: We will continue to employ licensed pilots in required types in line with the needs of our growing fleet. When we take the rapid growth graphic of the Turkish Civil Aviation into consideration, we believe that our need for pilots will continuously increase as well. Within this context, we have been training our own pilots for a while at the Turkish Flight Academy. An annual average of 200 pilots graduate from this academy and they sign 10 year-long contracts to fly with our company. As you know, all the projections made signal a significant requirement that will arise for pilots within the next 15-20 years. We are preparing ourselves in the best way we can towards these scenarios.

Aviation Turkey: How do you assess Turkish Airlines’ position in the global market?

Bilal Ekşi: Within the scope of the brand perception research made by the Nielsen Research Company, as a response to the question “Would you tell the names of 5 airlines you know?” asked at the airports and passenger contact points, Turkish Airlines became the 2nd most known brand in the world. Actually, this is the result of the leading brand communication strategy we executed and our powerful flight network. We will further strengthen our brand perception in a global sense and continue to be one of the best airline companies in terms of both safety and passenger satisfaction. We are now amongst the most critical players of global civil aviation; moreover, we are amongst the rule makers. We aim towards greater achievements and we proceed with firm steps.

Aviation Turkey: Turkey’s first “Aviation Psychologies Research Institute” was established under the cooperation of Turkish Airlines and Istanbul University. Could you please inform us on the activities executed in this area?

Bilal Ekşi: Aviation is a culture in developed countries. In fact, many stakeholders have an impact on shaping of this culture. Education and utilization of existing resources has a critical role in the formation of this culture. DLR - an assessment system we imported during the employment process of pilots, is now being conducted through the esteemed scientists of our country. Through this study, which is amongst our indigenization attempts, we allow the academicians of our country to work on aviation psychology while we transfer the remaining foreign currency to various areas of investment. We are well aware of the fact that unless we support the activities conducted in aviation as Turkish Airlines, we will not be able to contribute to the development of this sector in our country. Merely increasing the number of passengers will not be enough for this.

Aviation Turkey: Turkish Airlines is amongst the critical partners of Star Alliance. Do you plan to extend the scope of the cooperation with the Star Alliance in line with your targets and growth strategies in the upcoming period?

Bilal Ekşi: As Turkish Airlines, we are amongst the most crucial members of the alliance. Our network, our service quality exceedingly fulfilling the expectations and standards of the alliance making us a critical stakeholder. We are happy to be a member of the Star Alliance and the Star Alliance is happy to have us. We display our win - win principle also within this alliance. By signing mutual codeshare agreements with the members of the alliance, we increase our opportunity areas. We continuously work on creating new working areas in terms of trade that would satisfy both our company and the alliance.

Aviation Turkey: Havelsan will be manufacturing a Full Flight Simulator having an international D level certification for the Boeing 737NG type aircraft of Turkish Airlines. Could you inform us on the activities regarding this? What is your approach on an indigenous aviation industry and what are your comments on this issue?

Bilal Ekşi: Havelsan fully supported us in launching the capability of military simulators in civilian life. As you know, Turkey became the 4th country in the world to manufacture its own simulator as a result of this project. This has been a model study in respect to the development of Turkish Civil Aviation as well. We are using the simulators manufactured by Havelsan. As Turkish Airlines, we will continue to support all types of indigenous and national initiatives.

Aviation Turkey: Finally, is there any message that you would like to convey to our readers?

Bilal Ekşi: Turkey will grow; Turkish Airlines will be flying high


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