James Pearson

James Pearson, Editor and Chief Analyst at anna.aero, finds reasons to be cheerful about Turkey’s aviation industry and the future of the nation’s third largest airport.

In 2019, some 180 million seats were produced to, from and within Turkey. This was up by 121 million in just ten years. Not surprisingly, Istanbul’s two airports were responsible for much of this development. Between them, they added 85 million – 70% – of the additional seats.

Istanbul’s domination of Turkey’s capacity remains strong at 72% in 2019. But it has been reducing for the past few years from 80% as a result of non-Istanbul seats growing faster since the crises that afflicted Turkey in recent years. Since 2015, non-Istanbul seats have grown by 17 million against 13 million for Istanbul.

International seats up 83 million Seats since 2009

International seats have grown especially strongly to and from Turkey, up 83 million since 2009 against 38 million domestically. And international seats started from a base twice as great as domestic.

Of course, this downplays the enormous achievement of domestic flights, which have changed in unrecognisable ways in the past decade. While there were 359 daily flights in 2009, this increased to 874 in 2019. Yet, it seems that domestic capacity growth might – for now – be done.

In the past five years, it is carriers other than Turkish Airlines that have grown most. SunExpress stands out: this airline focuses on Antalya and Izmir and VFR-driven routes to Europe from across Anatolia. It has added six million more seats since 2015.

Yet, even excluding AnadoluJet and SunExpress, both subsidiaries of Turkish Airlines, Turkey’s flag carrier is paramount in the country. Turkish Airlines added 62 million seats in the past ten years, with 96 million in 2019. The flag carrier Turkish Airlines therefore added more than half of Turkey’s additional seats. Its share of the country’s seats has reduced to 53% in 2019, its lowest share since 2011.

Turkish Airlines’ geographic dominance

By far Turkish Airlines’ core market from its Istanbul Airport hub is Europe, with more than half of its daily seats. It serves 98 European airports aided by their closeness to market, strong P2P demand to Istanbul, the Turkish coast and Anatolia for VFR, and its large use of narrowbodies.

Turkish Airlines is significantly smaller – in relative and actual terms – to Asia than the MEB3. Indeed, it has only 19% more daily seats to all of Asia than to Africa, although with fewer frequencies. This is from more one=stops and narrowbodies to Africa. Turkish Airlines sees underserved opportunities in Africa with often stronger yields than elsewhere – and crucially – often with the chance to dominate markets. It is also more strategically placed to serve a greater amount of Europe to Africa.

While the two Istanbul airports have grown strongly, so too has Antalya, CONNECT’s host airport.

Antalya, host airport

Antalya is Turkey’s third largest airport, with almost 30 million two-way seats in 2019. It has grown strongly over the past decade, with 22.5 million more seats than in 2009. Despite the events of 2016 which reduced Antalya’s total seats YOY, the airport has added almost 11 million seats since 2015 – a CAGR of almost 10%. This, in itself, is impressive. Yet, it is the past two years – 2017 to 2019 – that have been responsible for this growth, albeit perhaps below what it might have been by now had the crises not occurred. Since 2017, five new airlines joined Antalya’s portfolio, with a range of airlines adding significant capacity. These include SunExpress, up nearly two million; Azur Air, up 1.8 million; Nordwind, up 1.5 million; and both Onur Air and Red Wings, up one million each.

Befitting Antalya’s resort status, most of its 2019 capacity – 73% – is international, with Germany and Russia key markets. This is reflected in Azur Air, Nordwind, and Red Wings each growing strongly since 2017.Germany has always been a significantly larger country from Antalya than Russia – until 2019. Like many European countries, Germany saw reduced capacity as a result of the crises. Condor, for example, cut more than a million seats. But, the uncertainty and reduced confidence following the crises did not dissuade Russia, with capacity to/from the country growing by nearly seven million seats since 2016.

By 2019, Germany and Russia accounted for 45% of Antalya’s total seats, up from 35% in 2009 and more or less at that level until 2017. Last year, a total of 45 Russian and 22 German airports were served, with Antalya’s top-10 international routes reflecting the importance of these countries. Moscow SVO and Dusseldorf, while first and second here, are third and fourth overall after Istanbul Airport and Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen.

In 2019, Antalya played host to 60 airlines serving 232 destinations. SunExpress, the joint Turkish Airlines-Lufthansa entity, was the largest operator. Antalya is key for SunExpress, with 55% of its seats deployed there across 46 routes. Interestingly, around half of the carrier’s additional capacity since 2017 has come from the domestic market. This growth didn’t really come from more destinations but higher frequencies, especially to Adana and Izmir.

Pegasus will soon become Antalya’s second-largest airline. AtlasGlobal also stands out. The small airline, with 11 aircraft, suspended operations last November because of its financial position. A key reason for its condition was that it focused away from its Istanbul hub. Antalya grew especially quickly for it, with its capacity up 830,000 in 2018, its peak, over 2015 – a large volume for a small airline. It then retrenched to its Istanbul core. It is meant to come back soon. But will it?