Q&A: World Domination


Turkish Airlines has its sights set on conquering the globe. It seems to be on its way to achieving that, as it currently serves more countries than any other carrier and counts nearly 40 destinations within its African network alone. Ramsey Qubein sat down with President and CEO Temel Kotil to find out the secrets to his airline’s success, and what the future holds for Turkish.

Turkish seems to be a lot more visible these days. Why is that?

We are succeeding because of our central position. IATA produces accurate data of global passenger traffic flow that shows much of it intersecting our airspace. This means traffic from North and South America, Europe and Africa, heading to Asia, the Middle East, and Australasia. The Gulf carriers have carved a powerful niche in this market, but we can do even better thanks to our geographic position and network operating costs.

What does this mean for the airline’s growth plans?

At the moment, we operate nearly 1,000 flights daily, but our eventual goal is 2,000 flights  a day. This type of activity not only stimulates regional and local traffic, but global companies can find a stealth partner that competes both on price and network.

Turkish Airlines often promotes its global network as one of its biggest strengths. Why is that?

We serve destinations that no other global carriers tap into, which brings us new traffic flow that would otherwise go unnoticed. For example, our flight into Mogadishu, Somalia. It is an extremely successful route, but came about through our focus on developing the infrastructure needed to support it. This includes providing our own security officials on the ground. We can stimulate new traffic, especially when we are the first entrant into a developing market.

Why is your African network so substantial, topping even that of the continent’s biggest players?

Once you combine our global position and massive network with the quality of product we offer, there is no question that customers will pay a premium to fly with us. This is especially true in niche destinations in Africa, such as Juba, South Sudan and Mogadishu, Somalia. Even in cities like Nouakchott, Mauritania and Kigali, Rwanda, Turkish has succeeded, thanks to its stealthy network and effort to outperform regional competitors.

Do you see Mogadishu as a model for other African destinations?

Absolutely. In Kigali, for example, we have partnered with RwandAir to provide them with assistance in marketing, security, safety etc. We know that when these regional carriers succeed, so do we. We both benefit from our growth, because we can stimulate traffic in the region. For example, RwandAir has brand new aircraft, and our new route can benefit from the feed their own growth plan provides. They carry their passengers regionally, and then we take them across the globe.

With such a big footprint in Europe, you are able to feed into your growing long-haul network. How are you able to do that and the other growing carriers cannot?

It is not that they cannot, but our network becomes superior due to several factors. These include our frequency of service over capacity. While Emirates may operate a widebody to one city, we can operate two narrowbodies, boosting frequency into our larger network. To us, frequency and network are king, and within Europe, our Business Class is superior with two-by-two seating and larger pitch (distance between seats). Printed menus and multi-course meals are the standard for us on short and medium-haul routes, giving us an edge over the European carriers.

What do you see for Turkish Airlines’ future in Africa?

We have tremendous growth plans to serve more than 40 cities across the continent, including Douala, Abuja, Ouagadougou, Aswan, Njamena, Libreville, and Niamey. We are able to open many of these new destinations thanks to our nimble fleet of Boeing 737s. This gives us the agility to enter new markets that larger airlines cannot touch, because their planes are either too large or their network does not feed enough traffic to these cities. And once we make initial contact with a destination, our powerful network gets to work, stirring up activity for local traffic to travel to and from a destination across the globe.