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Turkish Airlines: Urals Connections Captured Southward

Turkish Airlines: Urals Connections Captured Southward

23.11.2009 — Analysis

Turkey's national airline seeks to make Istanbul the region's largest air hub offering connections to Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. European carriers got themselves a serious competitor in their struggle for connecting passengers from the Urals, says Serhat Fil, Director of Turkish Airlines representative office in Ekaterinburg

- Mr Fil, Turkish Airlines has become one of the growth leaders in term of air passenger traffic via Koltsovo Airport. In 10 months of 2009 this indicator has grown by 60.9 %. What is the growth, against the backdrop of economic crisis, connected with?

- Turkish Airlines is Europe's 4th largest airline in terms of passenger traffic, passenger load, and number of routes. In 2006 Turkish Airlines introduced 24 destinations forthwith, including 4 in Russia - scheduled flights from Istanbul to Ekaterinburg, Kazan, Rostov-on-Don, and St. Petersburg. In the aviation business this can be considered a record. Before that we have already had flights to Moscow. In March 2009, Istanbul-Ufa flight was introduced. Thus, we offer flights to 6 Russian cities today.

The volume of Turkish Airlines' passenger traffic in Russia is growing constantly. Back in 2004 we only had 9 flights from your country to Turkey a week; now we have 47. During the summer period this number increases to 70 a week since we launch scheduled flights from Russia to Antalya.

Our airline has defined its growth strategy within this very period of crisis. Given the difficult economic conditions, Turkish Airlines have reduced air fares so that people still have the opportunity of flying for personal or business affairs.

Passengers who have once flown with Turkish Airlines come to us again. This is connected with high service level, outstanding food, and use of new aircraft.

- Do you have plans to increase flight frequency to Ekaterinburg?

- We currently have 4 Istanbul-Ekaterinburg flights a week. Our key target is of course the increase of flight frequency to daily. It is not clear when it happens, though. We planned to fly 6 times a week during the current winter period; however, due to the unstable economic situation we didn't manage to achieve this.

- Will Turkish Airlines fly to other cities in the Urals region?

- We don't have plans like that currently. Speaking of Russia, Turkish Airlines plans to start flying to Sochi in March 2010, and then to Novosibirsk. Your country is very big, therefore we seek to fly to each region, although we cannot afford being present in several cities of the same region.

- Many Russian airlines that fly to Turkey carry tourists at tour operators' requests. Why don't you enter the Urals charter flights market?

- Turkish Airlines is not enthusiastic about the idea of charter flights. We are a global level airline, we have direct scheduled flights from Istanbul to over 150 destinations, and we are short of aircraft.

In the past summer season (May to October) we had a scheduled Ekaterinburg-Antalya flight. This was not a charter flight, still all seats were bought out by a single tour operator. It offered the same service as other scheduled flights do. This has to do with service, food, and beverages.

Several Russian tour operators expressed their willingness to order charter flights from Turkish Airlines. However, in order to save costs they would be willing to waive e.g. food and beverages. We cannot afford this since Turkish Airlines has a certain passenger service quality level.

- What type of aircraft is used on Ekaterinburg-Istanbul flights, and what is the age of the airplanes?

- Average age of Turkish Airlines' aircraft is 3-4 years. The airline's fleet only consists of Boeing and Airbus (50/50) aircraft, with aircraft added on monthly. Depending on the number of tickets sold for each flight, A-320, A-321, and B-737-800 fly to Ekaterinburg.

- Do Russian tourists account for the main share of passengers on Ekaterinburg-Istanbul flight?

- About 80% are Russian citizens, out of which one third is tourists.

We would like to attract foreign tourists to Ekaterinburg, too. I have been living here since 2006, so I believe myself to be a proper citizen of Ekaterinburg. In the past 3 years, the city has changed dramatically. The urban infrastructure has increased significantly, many hotels were opened. Ekaterinburg has become a contemporary city whilst retaining its history.

Ekaterinburg is becoming an attractive place for tourists willing to visit Russia. It has the border between Europe and Asia; winter sports competitions can take place here as well. When I meet representatives of tourist business I always tell them that Turkish Airlines is prepared to assist in introducing Ekaterinburg to other countries.

- How busy is your Ekaterinburg flight today?

- In 10 months of 2009, average passenger load was 75-80%. This I suppose is the highest passenger load percentage amongst foreign airlines' Ekaterinburg flights. About 30-40% of Ekaterinburg-Istanbul flight passengers are connecting.

- To which countries of the world do people from the Urals travel via Istanbul?

- These of course are European countries. There are passengers flying to Africa, Middle and Far East, though. An interest in flights to Canada has appeared recently.

- How tough is the competition between Turkish Airlines and other foreign carriers who also fly out of Ekaterinburg and use their European airports for connections?

- This doesn't influence passenger load on our airplanes. On some occasions passengers are willing to fly to Vienna via Istanbul although there is a direct flight from Ekaterinburg to Austria's capital. Moreover, it has nothing to do with pricing policy since prices are nearly the same for all airlines.

People fly via Istanbul because its history attracts them. We offer our passengers a free one-day tour of this ancient city including visits to palaces, museums, and several other places of interest. Thus a passenger who flies to one country is given an opportunity to visit another one.

- In October 2009, Istanbul's second airport was opened. Will the connecting capacity of Turkish Airlines increase due to this?

- We fly out of Ataturk, Turkey's largest airport in Istanbul. Sabiha Gokcen International Airport has been recently built at the other side of the city. Both are now our airline's base airports. We have 27 flights to other Turkish cities and 9 international flights out of Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

- What about commuting arrangements between two airports within one city? Would the sad experience of Moscow not repeat itself?

- So far connecting passengers have no need for changing airports in Istanbul since flights out of Sabiha Gokcen Airport are available at Ataturk Airport as well. There is a plan to launch a direct connection between the two airports in 2012 via a subway line under the Bosphorus. This project is currently being developed by Japanese engineers.

Interview prepared by Pavel Kober

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