Best of 2012: Turkish Airlines interview

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Turkish Airlines and Atatürk International Airport can compete with the very best global players in a decade's time, CEO Temel Kotil says

Turkish Airlines and Atatürk International Airport can compete with the very best global players in a decade's time, CEO Temel Kotil says

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who led a nationalist revolution and founded the secular republic of Turkey, was a visionary. He thought outside the proverbial box and modernised his country. “The future lies in the skies,” he said in 1931.

Temel Kotil, the CEO of Turkish Airlines since 2005, is fulfilling the founding father’s vision in tandem with the economic liberalisation of the country that has taken place since prime minister Reçep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2002.

In ten years’ time, a confident Kotil says, the airline and Turkey’s Atatürk International Airport will compete with “anybody in this world.”

That’s quite ambitious for a carrier founded in 1933 with a fleet of only five planes. The airline industry is under pressure, struggling with high fuel costs and with demand being hit by the recession. American Airlines is bankrupt, while Australia’s beleaguered Qantas has left the oneworld alliance and teamed up with Emirates. To top it all off, IATA this month projected a loss of $1.2bn for European carriers in 2012, despite raising its global  outlook. None of this, however, seems to deter Turkish Airlines.

“Demographically we are in the best place,” Kotil, an American-trained mechanical engineer says, pointing to a map in his office next to the airport. He proceeds to explain how the airline is methodically exploiting Istanbul’s position as a hub that links Europe with the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

“In three to four hours... all Europe is reachable from Istanbul,” explains Kotil.

As part of its expansion strategy, the carrier is maximising the use of its short- to medium -range narrow-body jets that make up about 80 percent of the fleet, pushing aircraft like Boeing’s 737, the manufacturer’s bestselling jetliner, to its longest range of seven hours. That means Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yollari, or THY, in Turkish) can use its aircraft more efficiently.

“For us, an aircraft is a tool, every single aircraft is designed for a certain market,” says Kotil. “We are using narrow-body aircraft very efficiently. From Istanbul with the narrow-body, we put a system together,” he explains.

“The system I am putting together is like producing a small company every year - that’s the increment we are adding. So we are not in a position right now, we are not desperate right now, it’s more important to do our homework,” Kotil says in response to a question about taking a stake in Aer Lingus.

Today ,Turkish Airlines is the third-largest airline in Europe by passenger traffic and has 1,000 flights a day - a number it seeks to double over the next ten years. The carrier currently flies to about 203 destinations and has a fleet of 200 aircraft, mostly made up of narrow-body jets, and it’s likely to make new plane orders within the next eighteen months, says Kotil.

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