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Turkish Airlines Seeks to Create Hub Serving Asia and Europe



Turkish Airlines is on a rapid growth path as it seeks to create a transport hub serving Asia and Europe.

Helped by proactive government policies and the country's location midway between the two major markets, the carrier has embarked on an expansion programme to grow its fleet to 375 aircraft by 2020 and its service network to more than 200 international destinations.

Fresh from placing orders for 35 wide-bodied aircraft two months ago, Turkish Airlines will order more than 100 narrow-bodied planes in the first quarter of next year, as a key part of its plan to grow its fleet, according to chief executive Temel Kotil.

"We will double our daily departures to 2,000 by 2020 as our global network continues to grow," Kotil said.

To support this expansion, Turkey is building a huge new airport in its economic heart of Istanbul designed to eventually manage 150 million passengers a year.

The first phase is due to be completed in 2016 while the second phase will be finished in 2020.

Straddling Asia and Europe, Istanbul is within three hours flying time of more than 24 million people who can be reached by single-aisle aircraft, a level unmatched by its competitors in the Gulf area.

"We are now getting passengers from the European carriers," Kotil said. "The hubs in Europe are becoming less and less important."

The centre of gravity for air traffic had been steadily shifting from the West to East over the past three decades and after 2020 would move to Istanbul, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Kotil added.

Martin Craigs, chief executive of Pacific Asia Travel Association, a trade body for the tourism industry in the region, agreed that the focus was shifting. "The air hubs in Europe will definitely be replaced by the hubs in the Middle East and Turkey, as the governments in Europe are narrow-minded while their counterparts are proactive," he said.

Turkish Airlines' passenger volume has grown 13 per cent annually on average over the past decade and is expected to hit 38.2 million travellers by the end of the year.

But growth in mainland China lags behind the airline's expectations. The carrier wants to add five more secondary mainland cities to its service to Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, but is still waiting for central government approval.

"We can afford to wait as we are busy opening new destinations elsewhere," Kotil said. Next month, it will add 10 destinations, including six in Africa.

The air cargo market has been dampened by the European debt crisis, but Turkish Airlines has bucked the market by expanding its freighter service. Since 2008 its cargo volume had increased nine times to 1,800 tonnes per month from Hong Kong, said Huseyin Ceyhan, the airline's Asia-Pacific cargo director.

Next year, it planned to resume a freighter service to Shanghai and start a new service to Chengdu, while also looking to add Southeast Asian destinations, such as the new technology manufacturing hubs in Vietnam and Bangkok.