Mexico City still on the cards as Turkish looks to Irish expansion
One of Ireland's biggest connectors to the globe is looking to increase, or even double, its frequencies from Dublin, reflecting the rebound in the Irish economy with more connectivity options for the business community here.
Turkish Airlines is one of the big four - along with Emirates, Etihad and Qatar - connecting east and west double daily. But the next 12 months will see a crucial transformation which will be of interest to the Irish business traveller.
Firstly, its 70 million-capacity Ataturk hub in Istanbul is being mothballed - and a new airport, connecting the continents - is in the final stages of construction. The first phase opens this October, with a full handover next spring to a sprawling facility of six runways and capacity for 200 million passengers a year.
"October 29 will see the biggest ever movement from one airport to another in a night, from Ataturk to the new airport 40km away. Over 3,000 trucks - maybe more - in one night moving everything to what will be the biggest hub in the world," Hasan Mutlu, the airline's Ireland general manager, told the Sunday Independent.
The old airport was well received by business travellers, with an award-winning lounge featuring a pool table, extensive food and drinks selection and computer and racetrack games - but it was creaking at full capacity.
"Due to high demand the lounge isn't big enough for us. We'll probably have the largest lounge in the world in the new airport," said Mutlu. Another business bugbear - having to use a bus from gate to aircraft - will be largely eliminated. "Almost all flights will be using a passenger bridge - at least 85pc even at the maximum capacity but we assume almost all will," he said.
With Dublin still working on just one new runway, the pace of change in Istanbul is pretty remarkable, going from zero to operational in 24 months. By October, the cargo capacity will be as big as Hong Kong's - two million tonnes a year - rising to a world-beating five million next year. Given its distance from the city centre, a new high-speed rail link, subway and highway are nearly ready, with journey times into the city put at around half an hour.
Turkish has the biggest route network in the world (303 destinations) and Mutlu revealed that the Irish are in the top three for travelling per capita, while Dublin had "the highest figures in a positive way", rising most of any route last year. Irish business passengers on a typical flight transfer on to "100 different cities", he said, with Hong Kong, Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Bahrain, Muscat and Singapore the biggest draws for Irish businesspeople.
So what of Irish frequency? "I'd love to have a widebody here and the 777s we have for Tokyo, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires we could show the Irish market how good we are in long-haul business. But at the end of the day it's a three-hour-30-minute flight from Dublin," says Mutlu.
The company is investing in fleet, and cities will be putting their case forward for the new aircraft - including Boeing 787s and Airbus A350s.
But Mutlu sees an advantage in operating the current 737-800/900 for the cost advantages that can be passed on in lower fares.
The biggest news here would be a direct link from Ireland to Mexico City, opening up business opportunities for Irish companies in Latin America generally. "It's not a secret," said Mutlu. "When you look at our network map you see very few big destination cities we don't fly to - in the west Mexico City is one of them, and in the east Sydney is one of the cities we are looking at opportunities for next year.
"As soon as we have the flexibility [more fleet] we will do it. It can be Dublin, maybe Shannon - Ireland overall is a natural connecting point for east to west - for cargo to America we use Shannon for instance for a stopover."
Public awareness is an issue, and the airline has invested in the Irish market, sponsoring the Irish Test cricket team, the 3Arena and Champions Cup rugby, with more deals expected.
"We are aware that with more frequency from Ireland more passengers will wish to fly with us in the future as we trust on our product and network. I believe we deserve more frequency from Ireland - it could go to three or four frequencies easily - and it's easy to handle for us given the huge network." Given the fact that three Gulf rivals also fly double daily, it's a sign of the health of Ireland in aviation and a fiercely competitive market.
- Dublin itself is getting more connectivity with the arrival of its 48th airline - Croatia Airlines - this summer. The new route to the capital, Zagreb, will run from May to October on Thursdays and Sundays. While the focus will be predominately leisure, it will be a two-class service and also target the business market on the 144-seat Airbus A319s.
Sunday Indo Business