Business Today

We want to invest in an Indian carrier: Turkish Airlines

The airline has been in talks with the Indian government for an increase in the number of seats it has been allotted, as it wants to expand to more Indian cites.

Manisha Singhal        Last Updated: July 12, 2013  | 21:07 IST

Turkish Airlines is open to investing in an Indian carrier if a good opportunity arises.

"After the new foreign direct investment norms in India's aviation sector, we have been watching the Indian market," Mehmet Akay, General Manager, Western and Southern India, Turkish Airlines, told Business Today. "At present we do not have an actionable proposal or plan, but the options are there and as soon as a good opportunity comes, our management will not hesitate to invest."

Turkish Airlines currently operates 14 flights per week from Delhi and Mumbai.  Akay, who has been in India for about 18 months now, revealed the airline has been talking to Indian government officials for over a year now to increase the number of seats it has been allotted, as it wants to expand in other Indian metros as well as add flights to its existing network.

Flying to 100 countries, Turkish Airlines has the largest network globally.  Akay said 80 per cent of its passengers from India were transit passengers whom it carries to other global destinations from its hub in Istanbul.

With international airline traffic from India growing at nine per cent, international flights to the country fall short of the demand, Akay said. "The Indian government should have a level playing field for all airlines, allowing them to expand operations in India, instead of giving more flying rights to a few players, such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways," he added. Recently, when the Indian government allotted 36,000 additional seats to Abu Dhabi, it had a lot of explaining to do.

"India has so many new airports are coming up. The market is still under-served. It is difficult to understand why the Indian government is not accepting our demand for an increase in seats. It has been over a year now since we put in a formal request," Akay said.

The airline wants to add the cities of Bangalore, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad and Amritsar to its list of destinations. It seeks almost a five-fold increase in its flights to 70 per week.

Turkish Airlines was able to fill almost 80 per cent of its seats per aircraft on flights from India last year. It hopes to fill the same number of seats this year too, despite the slowdown and increase in fuel costs along with the slide in the rupee's exchange rate.

Akay rued the fact that high taxation of aircraft fuel and increased airport tariffs had dampened growth prospects for airlines in India. Regulatory inconsistencies made matters worse.

"High costs in India add up to 25 per cent in fuel costs alone. Sometimes it seems they are artificially reflected. So while our expenses are in dollar denominations we are collecting revenue in rupees. So even a dollar hike in fuel costs impacts hard," said Akay.

But Turkish Airlines is not looking at passing on the increased costs to passengers, at least not for now, he added.

Though it faces challenges from the growing might of the Middle East airlines, Akay said Turkish Airlines' vast network gives it an advantage. It allows Indians to fly easily into Europe with flying time to most European cities being just a little over three hours from its hub in Istanbul.

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