TBY talks to Mehmet Akkaya, Azerbaijan Manager at Turkish Airlines, on the growing air transport links between Turkey and Azerbaijan.
TBY Turkish Airlines (THY) has increased its daily number of flights from Istanbul-Baku from three to four times. How has the market changed over the 20 years that Turkish Airlines has been in Azerbaijan?
MEHMET AKKAYA We have seen impressive development. We started with two flights a week and over the years that has increased. Now we operate three to four flights a day, and this is a signal that the Azerbaijan transportation market is growing quickly. This is a turning point for us in our Azerbaijan operations.
What sector is behind this growth?
Both tourism and business are behind the growth. In tourism, more people are traveling for holidays and for shopping. Turkey is a good destination for shopping—like Dubai.
Is a charter flight from Baku to Antalya being considered in view of the attractiveness of Turkey as a tourist destination?
Antalya is a brand and a well-known tourism destination, especially in Azerbaijan. It is very easy to get flight services to Antalya, and it’s very inexpensive. It has very comfortable five-star hotels, very good cuisine, and because of this people love Antalya. We don’t fly directly to Antalya, but Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) travels directly there. We have very good connections via Istanbul. Maybe in the future we will have a direct flight, but we don’t have any plans for it at the moment.
THY has partnered with AZAL in the past. How has this relationship developed?
We have good relations with AZAL. Those relations are an issue for the headquarters of THY. We operate separately, but are very friendly. There is no problem or conflict with any airline. It is, however, our only competition in Azerbaijan.
THY also flies to the eastern Azerbaijan enclave of Nakhchivan. How would you describe the demand for this destination?
We now have three flights between Nakhchivan and Istanbul per week in the summertime, and we fly twice a week during the winter.
Will THY add further routes from Azerbaijan to Istanbul?
If we do, we will add Ganja as a destination. However, we don’t have concrete plans for this yet.
What is the company doing to increase passenger capacity?
We are improving quality and supply, and we hope that the fourth flight will increase capacity and help passengers get better connections to Europe and other regions. This is the most positive aspect of increased daily flights.
How significant is the Azerbaijani market to THY?
It is an important market for us because we don’t have many cities that we fly to four times a day. Naturally, Azerbaijan is a very important market for THY. As a broader country we have many things in common with Turkey.
What is your own background?
I was working in Uzbekistan previously. It is easier for us here because we have more Turkish companies in Azerbaijan and more frequency, and because of this I am happy. In Uzbekistan we had five flights a week, and here, just from Baku, we have 28 a week.
How important is promotion in increasing your business in Baku?
To determine this is very difficult because it requires special evaluation to know what effect a global advertising campaign has on the Azerbaijani market. However, the global names like Manchester United and Barcelona FC are known in Azerbaijan—more so than say Kobe Bryant from the US is here.
© The Business Year