FTE APEX Virtual Expo 2021 – Turkish Airlines: “new Istanbul hub allowing us to invite more airlines to fly to Istanbul”
İlker Aycı, Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee, Turkish Airlines, addressed the conference at FTE APEX Virtual Expo 2021 today (25 May 2021) in a fascinating interview conducted by Joe Leader, CEO, APEX/IFSA. He reflected on a five-year period of significant growth pre-pandemic, the opportunities presented by the new Istanbul hub, health and safety measures, and the airline’s leadership in sustainability.
“After a five-year period of tremendous growth, we met a global pandemic crisis,” Aycı began. “The first priority at the present time is crisis management. Secondly, we should also be ready to plan for the post-pandemic period. I’m doing both with my team. Things are going to change post-pandemic and we’ll adapt. We will be one of the growth airlines again in the new era.”
Impressively, Turkish Airlines has maintained passenger load factors of over 70% during COVID-19. Central to this has been understanding passenger expectations and what measures will give them confidence to travel. “We reshaped the entire process and passenger experience. Exemplary hygiene standards and safe travel measures give confidence to passengers, and they have responded very positively. We have the fourth largest network in the world and serve more countries (127) than any other airline.”
Significantly, Turkish Airlines was one of the first in the world certified at the “hospital-grade” Diamond level of the APEX Health Safety powered by SimpliFlying programme, which recognises preparedness to deal with passenger-related health and hygiene challenges presented by COVID-19. “We put passengers’ health safety expectations, and the experience they need from us, at the forefront,” said Aycı. “We have, for example, delivered millions of hygiene kits to the destinations we fly to. We have even reshaped catering according to new hygiene standards. In Q1 2021, we returned food service to 80% of normal levels and further increased that in Q2. Each and every trip should be the same and standardised for everyone.”
“Turkish Airlines has set the bar in terms of growth in the last five years”
Turkish Airlines worked tirelessly for two years in preparation for the “Great Move” to the new Istanbul Airport mega-hub in April 2019. “In moving to a brand-new smart airport, we checked the experience of other airlines that changed their terminal or hub and learned lessons from them,” said Aycı. “There was no previous move on this scale – it was a new experience.”
In the first year of operations at Istanbul Airport, Turkish Airlines’ transit passenger numbers exceeded those before the move. “That showed that this is the right home for us. Step by step, our service quality has increased.” Indeed, after five months the airline’s on-time performance exceeded 85%, and after six months it was 90%.
“The new hub made us number four in the world in terms of network capacity and it’s allowing us to invite more airlines to fly to Istanbul, so we can fly more to their hubs and they can fly much more to our hub,” Aycı added. “That means the attractiveness of Istanbul will increase, which is good news for the post-pandemic era. Turkish Airlines has set the bar in terms of growth in the last five years.”
A new generation of aircraft; investment in biofuels
Turkish Airlines is also a leader in environmental sustainability. “We have one of the youngest fleets in the world,” said Aycı. “With a new generation of aircraft, our carbon emissions and jet fuel consumption are much more efficient. For example, we’re 20% more efficient in terms of jet fuel consumption. We are also investing in biofuels in partnership with universities.”
Airlines and airports can register for a free access-all-areas pass, including the virtual exhibition hall, conference sessions, and networking areas.