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Turkish Airlines Maintains Bullish Growth Objectives Despite Aircraft Order Delay

Edward Russell
June 6th, 2023 at 6:24 AM EDT
Turkish Airlines at Tokyo Haneda

Photo credit: Turkish Airlines at Tokyo Haneda Flickr / Ryo Fujiwara

A delay to the plan by Turkish Airlines to acquire 600 new aircraft has not dampened its ambitious growth objectives, including an intention to add numerous new destinations around the world and spin off budget subsidiary Anadolujet.

The Star Alliance carrier postponed by two months the order that will be split between Airbus and Boeing by two months due to Turkey’s presidential election that went to a runoff on May 28, Turkish Chairman Ahmet Bolat said at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Istanbul Monday. The deal will still be split between roughly 400 narrowbody Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 Max family aircraft, and around 200 widebody Airbus A350, and Boeing 787 and 777-9 aircraft.

The aircraft will support Turkish’s plan to grow capacity by roughly 7.4 percent annually over the next decade, and double passenger numbers to more than 130 million by 2033. Both targets remain unchanged.

The deal is the latest airline mega-order. Since December, Air India, Ryanair, Saudi Arabia (Saudia and startup Riyadh Air), and United Airlines have each made commitments for more than 100 new aircraft from Airbus and Boeing. Emirates President Tim Clark in Istanbul said the airline is looking at a major new order for A350s, 777-9s, or 787s. And Delta Air Lines and Riyadh Air are reportedly in talks for further large aircraft deals.

Bolat emphasized the need to place an order now given the production delays and order backlogs at both Airbus and Boeing. Available delivery slots for some models, particularly narrowbodies, are not available until the end of the decade.

The orders are further confirmation of the strength of the air travel recovery. Global airline passenger traffic was down nearly 10 percent in April but expected to fully recover later this year, according to the latest IATA data. The organization forecasts 2024 will be the first year with traffic above 2019. Within those numbers, domestic passengers are back — up 3 percent year-over-four-years in April — while international was still down 16 percent.

IATA forecasts a 3.3 percent average annual growth rate in global airline passengers through 2040.

It’s that growth that Turkish, as well as every other airline ordering new planes, wants to capture. Yes, every carrier except Riyadh Air will use many of their new aircraft to replace older models. But every carrier has also indicated that some will be used for network expansion, on top of the growth enabled by replacing smaller planes with larger ones.

Turkish’s plans include expanding its Istanbul hub, where a new airport opened in 2019, into a truly global connecting point. That includes long-planned new flights to Australia, the only continent save Antarctica the airline does not serve. The airline plans to begin with one-stop service to Melbourne and Sydney via Singapore with A350s or 787s, Bolat said. It aims to shift those flights to nonstops in the future with either long-range A350-1000s — the same plane Qantas will use for its Project Sunrise nonstops — or 777-9s.

Turkish plans to include 25-30 A350-1000s or 777-9s in its 600 aircraft order, Bolat said.

New destinations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America — including Detroit this November — are planned as well, he said. Latin America expansion, Bolat added, is dependent on the arrival of longer-range models.

But Turkish is not only expanding organically. The airline inked partnerships with Icelandair and ITA Airways at the IATA event. The agreements will enable connections between Turkish and the two airlines’ respective networks.

And then there is Anadolujet. Turkish is in the process of securing its budget brand an independent operating certificate and spinning it off as a separate, wholly-owned subsidiary, Bolat said. The airline will continue to expand its main hub at Istanbul’s Asian airport, Sabiha Gökçen, and maintain a smaller hub in Ankara.

“It will be a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines,” Bolat said in response to questions over a possible Anadolujet stock listing.


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