Destination Africa:Is Turkish Airlines the New Emirates?

Turkish Airlines (THY) is being encouraged to launch services between Istanbul and Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. It is not the first time that the airline has been linked to new African services but on this occasion comes the admission there is a wider agenda involving trade and specifically mining and energy. Could Turkey be about to emulate China, which has been flooding the African continent with executive manpower - especially where there are sparse resources to be mined - using essential air transport as bait?

The Turkish President, Abdullah Gul, this week announced the country is ready to improve cooperation with Zambia in the fields of transportation, agriculture, mining and energy. At the same time the Zambian President, Rupiah Banda, stated he expected Turkish Airlines to launch service to the country, after the governments signed agreements to strengthen aviation services. It is not unusual for air service agreements to be bound up with trade agreements but the scale on which they are happening presently in Africa is striking.

In the same week THY confirmed the launch of four times weekly Istanbul-Lagos (Nigeria) – Accra (Ghana) service from 15-Jul-2010, with Fifth Freedom rights between Lagos and Accra. With the Accra service, Turkish Airlines continues to increase its already extensive network and will serve 127 international destinations worldwide.

Africa is THY’s ‘most valuable destination’

Late in 2009 THY opened an office in Uganda as part of plans to turn Africa into the airline's "most valuable destination", stating that Uganda inspires a lot of investor confidence while its economy is growing at 6% per annum. Three times weekly services to Entebbe Airport (and Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania) commenced on 16-Jun 2010. Another African city served newly since the beginning of 2010 is Alexandria in Egypt, with effect from 18-Jun-2010. The carrier plans to establish up to ten new destinations in Africa in 2010. It already serves Addis Ababa, Algiers, Benghazi, Cairo, Cape Town, Casablanca, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Entebbe, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Nairobi, Tunis and Tripoli.

Zambia's economy has experienced strong growth in recent years, with real GDP growth in 2005-08 about 6% per year, the same as Uganda’s. Privatisation of government-owned copper mines in the 1990s relieved the government from covering mammoth losses generated by the industry and greatly improved the chances for copper mining to return to profitability and spur economic growth. The decline in world commodity prices and demand hurt GDP growth in 2009, but a sharp rebound in copper prices has helped Zambia begin to recover recently.

There are clear economic benefits from dealing with other African countries where THY now flies. For example, Ghana is well endowed with natural resources and has roughly twice the per capita output of the poorest countries in West Africa. Gold and cocoa production are major sources of foreign exchange. Oil production is expected to expand in late 2010 or early 2011.

Senegal, the once prosperous phosphate exporter, has struggled for two years to secure capital and reduced output has directly impacted GDP. In 2007, Senegal signed agreements for major new mining concessions for iron, zircon, and gold with foreign companies. Firms from Dubai have agreed to manage and modernise Dakar's maritime port and create a new special economic zone.

THY the new Emirates?

Which raises the question of whether THY is also aiming to gain access to these countries as quickly as is Emirates? Presently, Emirates flies to 19 cities in Africa (including Mauritius and the Seychelles). Unsurprisingly perhaps, 12 of them (Casablanca, Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo, Dakar, Accra, Lagos, Dar-Es-Salaam, Entebbe, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Khartoum) are cities that THY is also now flying to.

Apart from the mineral wealth of many of these countries it has often been suggested that THY could have been what Emirates has become - a truly intercontinental hub airline, able to offer connections to all corners of the globe via Istanbul, if only it got its act together. As far as Africa is concerned at least it seems it is starting to do that.

Using Zambia as an example, there is currently only one intercontinental flight – British Airways to London Heathrow. There is no option on Emirates, Etihad or Qatar Airways and travelling via Johannesburg is an unattractive dog-leg journey to most destinations. THY’s arrival would therefore be a win:win – facilitating much greater access and egress to and from many parts of the world as well as facilitating industrial and commercial co-operation.

As the world’s attention moves away from Africa following the FIFA World Cup, THY’s attention clearly remains firmly fixed on the continent.
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3 Responses
  1. PTN Says:

    Interesting article! THY offers very competitive fares and good service, so no wonder there is such a development.

  2. Mango Whale Says:

    Linking commercial interests with developing new routes has always been a very bad idea. The losers have always been the airlines flying empty metal for the sake of bilateral relations.

  3. danial Says:
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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