Turkish Airlines is planning further growth in Africa in 2015 with at least six new destinations. Turkish already has the largest network in Africa among foreign carriers, overtaking Air France and Emirates as it has added a staggering 25 African destinations over the last three years.
By the end of 2015 Turkish will have at least 45 destinations in its African network across 30 countries. North Africa continues to account for most of its African capacity but Turkish also has established a large presence in east, central and west Africa.
Turkish is able to enter relatively thin underserved African markets by offering a myriad of connections to Europe, Asia and the Americas. Narrowbody aircraft have been the driver of its African expansion strategy as it has used 737-900ERs to open up destinations as far as seven hours from Istanbul.
Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil said on the sidelines of the 17-Dec-2014 Star Alliance executive meeting in Delhi that six of the 15 destinations the carrier plans to add in 2015 will be in Africa. This includes two unnamed destinations in Egypt, Abuja in Nigeria, Bamako in Mali, Conakry in Guinea and Juba in South Sudan.
Among the six planned new African destinations Turkish so far has only set a launch date and begun sales for Abuja, which will be served five times weekly from 3-Mar-2015 with 737-900ERs. Abuja will be Turkish’s third destination in Nigeria after Lagos and Kano.
Turkish currently serves 39 destinations in Africa across 27 countries, according to OAG data. Bamako, Conakry and Juba will extend Turkish’s African network to 30 countries as the airline does not currently serve Mali, Guinea or South Sudan.
Turkish has not yet set launch dates for any of these routes, some of which are likely to be tagged to existing destinations, following the normal Turkish formula for expanding to thinner African markets. Conakry is also not expected to be launched until the Ebola virus, which has significantly impacted traffic in Guinea, subsides.
Turkish will be the fourth airline from outside Africa to serve Abuja, joining British Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa. It will be the third non-African airline in the Bamako market after Air France and TAP Portugal. Air France and Brussels Airlines serve Conakry while flydubai is the only non-African airline serving Juba, according to OAG data.
In Egypt Turkish already serves four destinations – Alexandria, Cairo, Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh. These are the four largest international airports in Egypt based on current seat capacity. There are currently another six airports in Egypt with international services but only three of these are significant (over 1,000 weekly seats) – Luxor, Marsa Alam and Sohag. All three could potentially support service from Turkish, particularly given the airline’s typical low frequency small aircraft strategy for serving secondary markets in Africa.
The only African country that currently has more than four destinations is Algeria, where Turkish serves Algiers, Batna, Constantine, Oran and Tlemcen. Algeria and Egypt are logical markets for Turkish given their proximity to Istanbul. The two combined account for about one third of Turkish’s total African capacity.
North Africa overall accounts for 56% of Turkish’s total African capacity – or about 5% of its total global seat capacity. Central/West Africa and East Africa each account for approximately 20% of Turkish’s African seat capacity while Southern Africa, where Turkish currently has only one daily flight on an Istanbul-Johannesburg-Cape Town rotation, accounts for only about 5%.
Turkish is keen to pursue opportunities for expansion in all regions of Africa. In North Africa there are clearly expansion opportunities in Egypt, particularly as Egypt’s tourism sector gradually recovers. Turkish has about a 5% share of international seat capacity in Algeria and a slightly less than 3% share in Egypt. It has about 8,600 weekly seats in Algeria and about 14,000 weekly seats in the larger Egyptian market, according to CAPA and OAG data.
The six new destinations will also extend the gap between Turkish and its rivals in the Gulf, which have also been pursuing rapid expansion in Africa. Emirates currently serves 22 destinations in Africa while Qatar Airways has 19 and Etihad only seven, according to OAG data.
Air France has the second largest African network after Turkish among European carriers with 34 destinations. Turkish is categorised as a European carrier and is a member of the Association of European Airlines but strategically is more like a Gulf carrier. Turkish also competes more with the Gulf carriers given Istanbul’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, including for passengers travelling between Africa and Asia. European and Gulf carriers both compete for Africa-Europe and Africa-North America traffic.