Dr. Candan Karlıtekin

Dr. Candan Karlıtekin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Turkish Airlines, told us about the present and future of Turkish Airlines since the day he took office.

Dr. Candan Karlıtekin was re-elected Chairman of the Board of Directors of Turkish Airlines on 17 April 2008, a position he has held since 1 April 2003. Karlıtekin summed up the future goals of Turkish Airlines, which has risen in the past five years to the point of being a member of the Star Alliance today: “Turkish Airlines in the years ahead is going to consolidate its identity as a global player, develop its product in line with customer demand, and become an airline that creates a conscious brand loyalty in its customers.”

In general, what was the situation with Turkish Airlines when you came to office? Where have you brought it today? Can you tell us about some of the turning points and milestones and turning points?
When we came to office, world aviation was still recovering from the crisis that followed the 9/11 attack on the U.S. What I mean is that there was a crying need to eliminate the known hitches and to break the status quo, which was preventing the necessary changes from being made, and 9/11 performed that function. At Turkish Airlines there were grounds for taking a number of measures in terms of rationalizing and becoming more active and more efficient. It was high time to streamline the firm in certain ways, so some old planes with high operating costs were gotten rid of and 2002 closed with a profit thanks to some restructuring of jobs. When we came in 2003, it was already the second quarter and plans for the year had been made. The process of positive development that got under way in 2002 continued in 2003. We spent that period making some improvements in the operation and getting acquainted with the company and with the local and international conditions surrounding it, all the while mapping out its future. There were 64 planes when we took office. Eleven of them were RJ’s. They were entirely devoid of operational efficiency or usefulness. Not counting them, we had 53 planes. Now on the other hand we have a fleet of 119 planes. We took over a firm that was carrying ten million passengers a year and brought it up to twenty million. This year we are targeting 23.5 million passengers. Here at Turkish Airlines we followed up the initiatives for the economy and for political stability that were made in Turkey in the last five years, and we took advantage of the opportunities their success offered.

Turkish Airlines’ success has doubled over a five-year period. At the same time there is stiff competition both at home and abroad. While the number of planes and number of passengers have increased in parallel, how has profitability developed? Has it followed the same curve?
We have made a profit for six straight years, 2002 included. But our profit margins have narrowed and widened at times, as in 2007 for example. What this shows is that if a company does whatever its nature requires, if it makes short and long-term plans in  a timely and proper fashion, and if it adapts to market conditions and takes the requisite decisions without hesitation, then it will naturally come out ahead.

Turkish Airlines once stood alone. But even though its monopoly has been broken, it will not forfeit any of its profitability if it is managed well and can compete successfully. Could we say that?
Competition is the most important factor keeping Turkish Airlines alive. It is impossible to achieve success if there is no competition, if you get used to crutches and take refuge behind walls of protection. This is true of all sectors. What’s more, without the competition offered by Turkish Airlines the private airlines would not be successful either. This way we are all on our toes all the time, moving forward into the future and resolving our problems in a timely fashion in a management approach that takes measures of every sort to be successful and makes long-term plans to stay afloat.

How are conditions abroad? What’s the current picture?
When we first took office, nobody took Turkish Airlines seriously. But as soon as we took the initiative and put forward our ideas and started realizing our projects one by one, we started attracting the attention of the whole world. There was international competition prior to that in any case, but with the liberalization in world aviation in recent years and the proliferation of new carriers in the Gulf, suddenly everybody went on the offensive. And the international competition has gradually intensified. What we saw in the end is this: there is going to be competition, both between blocs and within those blocs themselves. Within that context we made our choice and joined the Star Alliance.

The new flight destinations that are being added are another indicator of growth. Turkish Airlines is continuously flying to new destinations, and resuming service to points that had previously been closed down. What are your criteria when outlining your policies?
We try to balance short-term profitability with long-term sustainable profitability. If a new route we open is not profitable at first, we view that not as a loss but as a long-range investment in the future. In principle we are strong enough to make such investments. Every new route opened also contributes to the flight network outside it and feeds the Turkish Airlines network as a whole. Therefore we take a risk at points where we can see a potential. Being Turkey’s flagship carrier is something else altogether. Sometimes a route we have closed down can be reopened later. Maybe at the time it took a loss, but changing conditions then create sufficient increase in demand that we reopen it. This is what I call the ‘critical threshold approach'. That route can be reopened after a critical threshold is crossed. The number of points flown to and the frequency of those flights, the number of flights per week, is very important. As a global airline you have to offer a satisfying and extensive range of products. As a general rule, wherever in the world we see an opportunity to make money, if the infrastructure, equipment and regulations are right, we go for it.

Could you tell us about your plans for the future of Turkish Airlines?
When we came to office, we made a 15-year perspective and an implementation plan for the first five years. That plan has been ninety-nine percent realized. I don’t want to engage in any false modesty on that point. We shifted the 15-year perspective even further ahead, and our target now is 2023. We again have five-year implementation plans up to that date. In the coming years Turkish Airlines is going to consolidate its identity as a global player, develop its product in line with customer demand, and become an airline that creates a conscious brand loyalty in its customers. The fact that ticket sales abroad now outnumber domestic ticket sales is a very significant indicator. This means that we are known and accepted by people abroad. We aim to make progress every day in what we call “sixth sense traffic”, in other words, carrying a passenger from any place in the world to any other place in the world.

At the moment we are a four-star airline. We want to be a five-star world airline that makes long-haul flights with wide-bodied planes. We will continue to be a four-star airline making medium-haul flights with narrow-bodied planes; anything beyond that is not suitable as a business model in any case. Nor is there any need for it. Here at Turkish Airlines we are now seeking our future not within our boundaries but outside them, under changing world conditions. I believe this is a sufficient clue for now.