A Conversation with Turkish Airlines' Biggest Fan

Image In 2010, Temel Kotil, CEO of Turkish Airlines (TK/THY), surprised the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) by announcing that TK’s goal was to become the world’s largest airline. Three years later, THY has the largest international network and serves more international points than any other airline: by any measure, a very quick achievement of a daunting goal. But that is just a waypoint in the ongoing remaking of Turkish Airlines.
When speaking with Dr. Kotil, one is immediately struck by his enthusiasm and energy; a full-on dedication to make certain that Turkish meets its commitment to staff, passengers, and shareholders. The airline added 32 new destinations to its network in 2012 and has equally ambitious plans for 2013 and 2014. And these are not nearby destinations. On tap are San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, Havana, Bogota, Caracas ,and Mexico City. The only thing delaying the timetable is a lack of long-haul aircraft. That problem has been solved with the order of 20 B-777-300ERs and 20 A330-300s that will begin to appear next year. And existing destinations like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Tokyo will go double-daily once the aircraft arrive. There is also talk of adding B-777-200ERs, able to link Istanbul and Australia with non-stop services - a first for a European airline.

It’s about more than the aircraft

But he is even more excited about the improvement of the “soft product,” the service and style innovations that truly differentiate an airline. While welcome drinks for all passengers are not feasible, the airline has begun to distribute Turkish Delight to all boarding passengers, creating a moment of personal interaction between passengers and crew at the very beginning of the flight experience.

The Flying Chef program, currently restricted to intercontinental flights, will, over the next year, be expanded to include all international services. This will add yet another personal touch to the Turkish product in a very visible way.

In order to keep pace with the need for increased staff, some Turkish universities are offering programs to train cabin staff, and the airline has its own cadet school for cockpit crew development. All of this is in line with the goal to make every passenger feel as though they are being welcomed to the family home and, in order to achieve that, Kotil says they have to “make the airline a family business.”

For the next few years, space will be tight at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport which is already feeling the crush of rapidly-growing passenger numbers, but the congestion will be relieved with the opening of a new airport, designed to be among the world’s largest when fully built out.

Innovative solutions

Within a decade, Turkish has moved from being a small national carrier to a position of global aviation leadership. The geographic position of Turkey, astride trade routes that have existed for millennia, makes it possible to connect virtually every major destination on the globe with a single transfer in Istanbul. And, unlike its peers in the Gulf, Turkish operates a large fleet of narrow-body aircraft that make secondary cities and multiple frequencies to major cities feasible. The airline is also expanding rapidly in Africa where traditionally long distances have meant the use of large aircraft but with low frequency. Turkish has introduced a sub-fleet of B737-900s that are specifically configured to provide wide-body comfort on a single-aisle aircraft. This allows for additional frequencies that are financially viable as well.

At this point, the 2010 announcement at IATA seems to be actually underwhelming as the airline continues to grow and add to its already huge network. The next goal - to be the absolute best. Don’t bet against them.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07