Air cargo to play a big role in Turkey's future

26 / 04 / 2014

  • Istanbul Atatürk Airport

    Istanbul Atatürk Airport

AIRFREIGHT has a key role in Turkey’s ambitious programme to be the world’s tenth largest economy by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the republic.

Transportation, including the airport and aviation, is one of the six economic pillars supporting the 2023 Vision set out by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

It is not such a steep hill to climb, as Turkey – with 77m people – is already the world’s 17th largest economy by GDP and would also be the sixth largest in the European Union, if Turkey’s membership ambitions are realised.

According to ACI 2013 statistics, Istanbul’s Ataturk airport is the world’s 11th largest for passenger traffic but outside of the top 30 for cargo. The airport, on the European side of the Bosphorus, is capacity constrained. 

Hence Istanbul’s long awaited new airport, delayed by environmental review issues, is set to open by the end of this decade and will have six runways in its final phase.

It will be built in four stages on 77m sq m, and will have a capacity for 150m passengers when completed, eventually replacing Ataturk.

Istanbul already has a second sizeable international hub to the south of the capital, the Sabiha Gökçen airport on the Anatolian side of the Bosphorus, which handled 18m passengers in 2013, and where fast-growing budget airline Pegasus Airlines is a major operator.

In support of the 2023 Vision, the Turkish government is pouring Lira into the nation’s transport and logistics infrastructure, which benefited from 30 per cent of total state investment in 2013.

At a Pegasus-sponsored air cargo conference for aspiring logistics students at the Yeditepe University in Istanbul, a number of top level industry speakers outlined the opportunities for the country.

Turgut Erkeskin, president of Utikad – Turkey’s association of international forwarding and logistics providers – said that 60% of Turkish airfreight is transported by its 400 members.

Erkeskin, who is also a vice president of FIATA, said that the current Turkish flag aircraft fleet totals 322 aircraft, of which nearly ten per cent are freighters, and that the combined fleet will reach an estimated 750 planes by 2023. 

Turkish Airlines and fast growing Pegasus Airlines alone have just over 200 additional aircraft on order.

Erkeskin told the student audience that Turkish airports were within a relatively short flying time to major consumer markets of Russia, Africa and Asia: “In the midst of all these markets is Turkey and we should grab the opportunity”.

Erkeskin pointed out that the 1996 customs union agreement with the EU has “deepened the industrial opportunities for Turkey,” and that, rather like Germany’s economy feeds its neighbours in Switzerland, Austria and Italy, so “Made in Turkey” can do the same in Bulgaria, Ukraine and others.

“We are in the first rank among our region and Turkey is a powerhouse.”

Ertan Aslanoglu, sales director with Toll Global Forwarding in Turkey, said that 20 per cent of Turkish exports went to its near neighbours, while 60% went to the rest of Europe, Asia and Africa, with the remainder made up of North America and the Far East.

And while Turkish airfreight volumes account for around one per cent of exports, it remains an important facilitator for Turkey’s industrial base, which includes the sizeable textile industry, with a near 29 per cent share of the country’s total export volumes by all modes.

The major freight carrier remains Turkish Airlines, whose cargo division – with three A310-304Fs and six A330-200Fs - handled 612,000 tonnes of international and domestic freight in 2013.

One example of the rapid growth potential for Turkey’s airline industry is Pegasus, which was launched in 1989 by Irish carrier Aer Lingus as a charter airline in Turkey.

Pegasus was bought by the Turkish-family owned ESAS group in 2005 and transformed into a low cost passenger carrier which carried 8,200 tonnes of bulk loaded freight in 2013. 

It operates 2,250 flights a week to 83 destinations, and achieved a near 27 per cent market share of the domestic Turkish passenger market last year, plus nine per cent of international passengers.