There is at least one airfreight carrier that has been creeping closer in the rear-view mirror of the “Big 3” Persian Gulf-based carriers in recent years. In many ways, it’s trying to beat the Doha-Dubai-Abu Dhabi Triangle at its own game: Location, market share, capacity and customer service.
“I talked with one of the Gulf carriers recently,” said David Phillips of Dubai’s Freight Systems Co. Ltd. “I asked them, ‘Who’s your biggest carrier competitor?’ He said, ‘Turkish Airlines. They are our real competition.’”
Like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, Turkish has geography on its side. With one foot in Europe and the other in the Middle East, Turkish’s hub in Istanbul is also a major crossroads of the world, only it’s much closer to the major European capitals. For instance, its Turkish Cargo division recently increased its freighter frequencies to Bulgaria and Hungary and is also setting up a truck feeder operation to Budapest.
“Our general strategy is to catch passenger flows passing through our country,” said Halit Anlatan, vice president of sales and marketing for Turkish Cargo. “About 60 percent of that flow is east-west.”
Turkish has already set some lofty airfreight goals for itself. “Our main focus for 2016 is to carry, by the end of that year, at least 1 million tonnes of airfreight,” Anlatan said. “Currently, we’re at about 670,000 tonnes and, by the end of this year, we hope to be at 775,000 tonnes.”
Turkish Cargo has a network of more than 260 destinations. By 2020, Anlatan said the carrier wants to reach 1.5 million tonnes of cargo handled and increase its freighter fleet from 9 to 15.
In the headlong fight for cargo market share, Turkish is ready to scrap for it. Last month, the carrier cleared a major hurdle by opening a new cargo terminal at its Istanbul hub. With an annual capacity of 1.2 million tonnes, the facility has 250 percent more operational space, measuring 45,000 square meters; Dubai World Central, Anlatan added, only has 35,000.
“Turkish has been very aggressive,” Phillips said. “They do a large amount of trade between the U.S. and India. Their operation in Istanbul is much better now. They’re going to be a really big player.”
In Turkey, government spending on airlines and aviation is about 3 percent of the nation’s US$800 billion total GDP. “But then look at Dubai, where aviation spending is about 28 percent of GDP. I don’t want to say that we can’t eventually reach that, but that’s tough to beat,” Anlatan said. “By the end of 2018/early 2019 we will be the world’s biggest airport, and will reach our full capacity by the end of 2024.”