Turkey’s THY becomes 7th biggest airline company in Europe


ISTANBUL, Turkey (eTN) – Turkey’s state-run airliner Turkish Airlines (THY) has become the seventh largest airline company in Europe, outpacing Italy’s Alitalia by passengers carried in the first seven months of the year.

THY carried 12.16 million passengers, a 15.7 percent rise in January-July period, and climbed to the 7th rank, according to figures given by the Association of European Airlines.

THY carried 14.9 million passengers in the January to August period, a rise year-on-year of 15.4 percent. The Turkish carrier said it is aiming to increase passenger traffic to 23.5 million in 2008, from 19.6 million passengers last year despite the worsening conditions in the global sector.

THY grabbed troubled Italian airliner Alitalia’s position as the Italian carrier was having financial problems and saw 17.4 percent fall in the number of passengers to 11.8 million. THY ranked the eight in 2007 with its 10.5 million passengers carried. Germany’s Lufthansa topped the list as the biggest European airline company with 32.2 million passengers. Air France, which flied 29.6 million people, was the second and British Airways came third with 18.7 million passengers.

In the next five years, fast growing THY is expected to jump into first five in the list of Europe’s biggest airline companies.

Turkey’s flag carrier is eyeing buying opportunities in the region and planning to continue its organic growth which is more than 20 percent a year, the company’s CEO said in an interview.

THY, one of the fastest-growing airlines in Europe, grew more than 20 percent annually in the past five years despite the worsening global outlook of the sector and increased domestic competitiveness. The company aims to keep the pace in 2008.

The Turkish carrier is also reportedly looking abroad for possible acquisitions. It confirmed its interests in Austrian Airlines and Bosnia-Herzegovina Airlines. However, THY missed a deadline for participation in a privatization tender for a stake in Austrian Airlines. Bosnian officials are to complete their assessments on the bid for the airline by end-September.

The International Air Transport Association, representative of the sector with some 230 members, estimate the global loss in 2008 would be $5.5 billion. THY CEO Temel Kotil said: “The policy of THY amid such a negative atmosphere is the ‘best defense is offense.’ We want to open a place in the market for us. So we see this [negative atmosphere] as an opportunity.” According to him, THY is aiming is to reach 40 million passengers and $10 billion total sales by 2013.

Kotil added that THY is an important alternative to other airlines, therefore passengers from Russia, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia increasingly prefer Turkey’s flag carrier for their transit flights. The number of transit passengers had increased 42.9 percent to 802,166 in the first seven months of the year.

“This year our target is to reach 1.5 million transit passengers. If we have a growth rate of 50 percent next year, then it would exceed 2 million,” Kotil said, adding around 26 percent of THY passengers who fly to Istanbul are transit passengers.

Kotil also confirmed that the airline’s Star Alliance membership had contributed some 10 percentage points to this growth rate.