Turkish Airlines is gaining in strength in southeast Europe.
By Ivana Jovanovic and J. Paul Barker for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Istanbul -- 28/09/12
Turkish Airlines operates in more than a dozen cities in southeast Europe. [J.Paul Barker/SETimes]
The rapid growth of Turkish Airlines and the privatisation of that country's airports allowed it to make deep inroads in southeast Europe, where it fills a void left by struggling government-owned airlines.
Since TAV Airports Holding was privatised in the 1990s, the airline industry in Turkey has grown from $2 billion to more than $16 billion (12.4 billion euros) and expanded its workforce by 85,000 people to more than 150,000.
The industry doubled in nearly every statistical category between 2002 and 2010, with the Balkans a key strategic region and place for economic growth. Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, operates flights in southeast Europe from Tirana, Sarajevo, Sofia, Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb, Athens, Thessaloniki, Pristina, Skopje, Bucharest, Belgrade and Ljubljana.
"Air travel is crucial for increasing commercial trade between South European countries," said Ismail Ekim, director of Finnair Turkey general sales agency.
Turkish Airlines spokesman Ali Genç said that the airline is continuing to increase flight frequencies, special work groups for travel from the Balkans and promotions to increase traffic between the Balkans and Turkey.
"Turkish Airlines has two daily flights to and from all of the capital cities in the Balkans and Southeastern Europe," Genç told SETimes.
Carriers in Southeastern Europe haven't fared as well. Hungarian-owned Malev Airlines shut down earlier this year and was declared insolvent, and low profits forced Turkish Airlines to end its relationship with Sarajevo-based BH Airlines.
Turkish Airlines is negotiating with Serbia's JAT Airways, which the government has been attempting to privatise. JAT increased its regional flights this summer by 50 percent and saw a 10 percent increase in the number of passengers, the company said in a statement.
TAV Airports Holdings has more than doubled its workforce since privatising. [TAV Airports Holding]
Other airlines, including Croatia Airlines, Adria Airways and Montenegro Airlines, are working together to share aircraft in an attempt to hold down costs and maintain profitability, but the experiments have not always been successful.
Croatia Airlines launched a Belgrade-Split route this year, but plans to resume its flights from Zagreb to Belgrade after 21 years of interruption did not come to fruition. Spokesman Davor Janusic told SETimes that the airline encountered difficult stretches because of the global recession.
"This is the reason why some certainly had expected stagnation, and some of them to a fall of passenger numbers in relation to last year," Janusic said.
Zoran Djurisic, president of Montenegro Airlines, said co-operation is the key for faster development and greater service for people in the region.
"Joint appearances in front of regulators, as well as the co-ordination of activities related to the procurement of fuel, aircraft equipment, technology upgrades, would be significant for all of us," he told SETimes. "All mentioned have the same aim, to rationalize costs."
There have been substantial changes to the regulations of the airline industry that have made this growth possible.
Asılhan Çötük, marketing co-ordinator for TAV Airports, told SETimes that Turkey began privatising airports in the 1990s.
Since Turkey is one of the very first countries that made changes in the airline sector, its experience could be more than useful.
"Turkey's role in the region is neither to be exaggerated nor to be underestimated," Inan Rüma, assistant professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University, told SETimes.