Turkish Airlines is aiming to double its passenger numbers in less than a decade with the help of an ambitious planned new airport near Istanbul, championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the CEO of the fast-growing flag-carrier said.
Temel Kotil also said Turkish Airlines’ growth strategy did not for now include the acquisition of giant A380 four-engine planes from Airbus, preferring instead to increase frequency on popular routes with smaller planes.
Kotil confirmed that Istanbul’s planned third airport close to the Black Sea had a projected start date of October 29, 2017, saying it would host 70 million passengers in its first year of operation.
The airline’s current hub – the already hugely overcrowded Ataturk airport named after Turkey’s modern founder – would then only be used for non-scheduled flights, he said.
The second airport, Sabiha Gokcen on the Asian side of Istanbul, would continue operations.
“The new airport is, I believe, the smartest project in Turkey,” Kotil told a group of reporters in an interview at the airline’s headquarters at Ataturk airport.
“You need a big airport. Istanbul will be the most connected city in the world.”
Rapid connections at the new airport would mean passengers “will go home two hours earlier on average.”
“The mega (air) hubs are growing but apart from Istanbul none is in Europe,” Kotil said.
He said the ultimate capacity of the new airport – which some officials have suggested could be named after Erdogan – would be a colossal 150 million passengers annually, which would make it one of the biggest in the world with six runways and four terminals.
Turkish Airlines has grown exponentially in the last years, becoming one of the jewels in the crown of the “new Turkey” under Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that came to power in 2002.
Having been a minor player just a decade ago, privatisation from 2004-2006 transformed the company. It is now the world’s 13th airline by revenue and capacity and boasts of flying to more international destinations than any other.
It saw a 367 per cent passenger growth from 2004-2014 as it added dozens of new destinations and aircraft.
The Turkish government still holds a minority stake of just over 49 per cent of the shares with the rest traded on the Istanbul market.
The company expects to carry 63 million passengers in 2015 but Kotil said the number would double to 120 million in 2023, the year when Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the modern republic.
The fleet will increase to more than 450 aircraft by 2023, up from 293 in 2015, Kotil said.
Separately, the airline announced last Monday it recorded $US153 million ($A188.62 million) net profit in the first quarter of this year, with passenger numbers up 6.5 per cent from the same period a year earlier, in a sign of the company’s “sustainable growth”.
But unlike some of its also fast-growing rivals like Emirates and Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines has not rushed to buy the new A380 jumbo jet, and Kotil indicated it was keeping to its cautious strategy for now.
“It is a nice aircraft but there is no decision. On our routes, two engines (planes) work very well,” he said, denying speculation that Turkish Airlines could announce the decision to buy the planes at the Paris air show later this year.
He said that the airline instead preferred to increase frequencies on popular routes, using different types of plane to fly to the same destination.
A particular focus for Turkish Airlines is Africa where the “middle class has started flying” and the company built profitable routes even to seemingly ominous destinations like Mogadishu in Somalia, Kotil said.
“It’s a new China next to Europe,” said Kotil, noting the African market of 1.2 billion people had the potential to grow tenfold.
He said Turkish Airlines was able to keep costs down in a manner reminiscent of a budget airline but without compromising on quality.
“The efficiency is not like Ryanair but not too far away,” he said, referring to the notoriously thrifty Irish budget carrier.