Experts say that the higher the growth of the aviation industry, the higher a country’s GDP. The economic benefits of aviation are very important. Globally, it is 3.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The vice president, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkish Airlines, Mr Said Samil Karakas in an interview with WINIFRED OGBEBO, who was in Istanbul recently, said it’s important for emerging countries like Nigeria to know how important aviation industry can increase its GDP while assuring the country of more connectivity to other parts of the world.
Recently, the President of Turkey paid a historic visit to the President of Nigeria and he came along with his high rated businessmen. Is Turkish Airline looking at ways of latching in at this visitation to meet your projections towards Nigeria?
We are happy that our president met your President and happy that Nigeria and Turkey have a very good relationship. Although I was not part of the delegation, I followed it from here, minute to minute because it was very important for us and Turkish future as well. Nigeria is a great and amazing country which we think can be penetrated so that Turkey can participate in the success of Nigeria. Of course, we are partners with Nigeria and we are considering Port Harcourt and doubling our daily flights to Lagos. Once we put these flights in Nigeria, Nigeria will be connected through Istanbul to the world at a very reasonable price too. As you can see, there is no other airline that has this wide network. Once a Nigerian passenger is holding a European, UK or US visa, those passengers can have an online visa in Turkey for $15 and can enter Istanbul and that means you have a transit in Istanbul and you stay in Turkey while going or returning.
With the increasing rate of terrorism of which Nigeria is affected, don’t you think this is a threat to Turkish airline?
This is a political question and could best be answered by politicians. Though terrorism in a country can affect business, we are not revising our figures. We are not cutting our projected capacity for 2016. It will still happen. We are investing in it and I don’t think there will be a dramatic effect that we would have to stop our improvement in the aviation industry. We have decided to invest and the new destinations we have decided to open in 2016 will still be opened.
Have you noticed a drop in passenger traffic because of this?
If something like this happens, like what happened in Brussels, we will have a drop. If something happens in Istanbul, it will affect the current passenger figures because people can cancel their flights to Istanbul for this period. But since like almost 10 years now, something is always happening that we are not really considering these things in our improvement and growth plans.
Considering that the competition is high in the aviation sector, what special packages do you have for Nigerian passengers?
We are an airline and we only sell airline tickets. We are serving three cities which we think is an advantage for Nigeria and maybe more cities will come in the future and more focus. We believe that we are the best in Europe and can serve Nigeria with better products and price. We think we can connect you to more cities from Nigeria. Take for instance, Nigerian customers flying to Russia. Even though other airlines may be flying only to Moscow and 10 other cities in Russia, they can book what we call open door ticket where they can fly to Paris, with or without price difference, can come back from Lyon go to Frankfurt and come back from Berlin and the price does not change. We have the same price policy. You can depart from Lagos and come back through Abuja.
America is an important country for Nigeria and we are opening new destinations. Last year, we opened Miami and this year we are opening Atlanta. We will have more destinations in the U.S. and South America in future and this will be of advantage to our passengers. Most Nigerians live in Atlanta and go for their vacations there and this will be of interest to them.
This is the connectivity that we are providing and it’s very important. With the new airport in two years, this connectivity will grow. We will have more destinations and more aircraft, and better and easier connectivity which will help all of us.
What is the secret of your growth in the aviation industry?
The first thing was the decision to grow which we did in 2003 when we had a government change. The government is supporting the Turkish Airline to grow but not financially. There is a mental support. There is a stable country and government which allows businesses to grow. The income per Turk grew from $3,000 to about $11,000 in 10 years. It also shows that as the country is growing, Turkish Airline will also be growing. Turkish Airline is participating in the growth of Turkey.
Our geographical location is a natural advantage as the city of Istanbul is a natural destination for all the people in the world. There is history here and there are many attractions you can find here. It is a commercial city and natural beauty.
At the moment, how would you rate Nigeria’s perception of Turkish airline, do you think they are aware of what you have to offer?
No, I don’t think they are aware. We are just like 10 years in Nigeria and our competitors came before us and they have a historical advantage. But we believe that in future, with better products, prices, connectivity and more presence in the market, we would be better known in the Nigerian market. In general, about 80 per cent of African governments are coming to Turkish Airline, asking us to fly.
What are the new facilities in the new Turkish airport that traditional airports in other places don’t have?
Already, we have the best lounge-chair, that is the trust. You will not see a similar lounge around the world. In terms of hospitality, we are very confident about that. The food we are offering, the drinks and spaces are really amazing. Already, we have these things but in the new airport, we will have it more. We have separate terminal for Turkish Airline, better lounges and many more things. We are involved in the construction of the new airport as the biggest airliner in Turkey and we tell them what we want- it will be customized.
How does the bureaucracy of signing new routes within Nigeria compare to what is obtainable in other parts of Europe for example?
Though some parts of the world are easier for the aviation business, the Nigerian government has been so cooperative. We have now increased our Abuja flight from five to seven. We are now asking for Port Harcourt and double daily flights to Lagos, and we are sure we will get them.
Yes, in some countries it may be easier and not that easy in Nigeria. But we have a very good relationship with Nigeria and the Nigerian civil authority.
In Africa, certain countries just have one airline from Europe flying in the country but once we enter the country, the prices will drop. This makes it efficient for the people of the country. Now, African governments are coming to Turkish Airline and asking us to fly. In most of them, since we have the aircraft and the commercial capacity, we fly. Even where we see the smallest potential, we fly.
What is Turkish Airline’s geographical advantage?
One of the reasons Turkish Airline could invest in this business is our geographical advantage. No person can compare 70 per cent of the international destinations that we can reach, which means a very cost efficient flight for us, so we can invest in small cities with small investments.
The third Airport in Istanbul which we call the New Airport which is under construction will have six run ways and four terminals. It will have three phases: the first phase will be opened in the first quarter of 2018 with 90 million passengers. The second phase is 120 million and the third phase with 150 million passengers will be finalized hopefully in 2023. This is the feature of Turkey and will probably be the biggest airport in the world.
The year 2023 will be the 100th year of the republic of Turkey and it’s a very important year for us. Our government has set many targets for this year and as Turkish Airline, we also have targets. The number of passengers will be 120 million for only Turkish Airline and our revenue will be $30 billion and the number of our aircraft will hit 500 in 2023. This is where Turkish airline is going and almost double of what we have now.
Turkey airline is regarded as one of the best in the world with awards to show. How did you earn this?
We have some awards which very important to us. For five years in a row, we have been chosen as the best airline in the world by Skycrest. There is no airline in Europe that is better than the Turkish airline and we are not hesitating to say that we are the best. We are not the oldest in Africa as we just started our business there in 2006, but we’re very old in Europe. Unfortunately, Turkish airline in Africa was late and that’s why we are not known in Africa that much because some of our competitors are already flying up to 50 to 60 years now. But we started flying Africa and now we are the biggest and there is no other airline flying more destinations in Africa than Turkish airline. But unfortunately, our awareness in Africa is not much because we are new.