TBY talks to Defne Mısırlı, General Manager of Gulf Air, on passenger and cargo number trends in the airline industry.
TBY How have passenger number trends changed over the last few years, and what are the reasons behind this?
DEFNE MISIRLI The volume of trade between Turkey and the Middle East region is booming. Political ties are also getting stronger. From our perspective we have seen double-digit growth in passenger volumes between the regions. We have a lot of construction companies doing business in the region and they travel in big volumes as their projects can last years, with many passengers travelling back and forth.
What is the passenger load factor between Istanbul and Bahrain?
Currently we are running at around a 70% load factor. That is the average. It can go as high as 85% during peak times. We have capacity to meet demand during all periods.
How do you see Istanbul developing as a transit hub, and how does this fit into Gulf Air’s worldwide operations?
Istanbul is becoming increasingly important both as a destination and as a transit hub in the region. From Gulf Air’s perspective Istanbul is purely a destination and has always been important both strategically, and in tourism terms.
What portion of passengers travelling between Bahrain and Istanbul are business travelers?
Around 60% is business and 40% leisure.
What is the level of freight services that Gulf Air operates?
We fly four times a week with narrow-body aircraft. We carry 3-15 cubic meters volume of cargo. These are specifically low-density cargo such as spare parts, textiles, and the like.
How did Gulf Air respond to the crisis?
Like every airline, Gulf Air was affected by the crisis. Our 60-year history in aviation gave us the knowledge to get through this period. We have reacted to the crisis by changing the way we do business. We have become more proactive, more efficient, and faster in our service, and are working far more closely with our customers.
During the crisis Turkish exporters to some extent switched their focus away from Europe and to the Middle East. Will this benefit Gulf Air in the long term?
If you analyze the regions of the world, the Middle East was one of the least affected regions in the crisis, especially in the aviation business. We took advantage of this situation. We see bilateral trade developing further in textiles, food products, and consumer electronics.
Turkish airlines was affected by rising fuel prices over 2010. Have fluctuating fuel prices affected Gulf Air?
No airline is immune to fuel prices. Fuel prices make up as much as 30% of the operational costs of an airline. Therefore, we saw a great effect.
What ambitions do you have for Gulf Air moving into 2011?
During 2010 we opened eight new destinations and completed the first phase of our fleet renewal program. We will continue to expand further during 2011 as well. I want Gulf Air to achieve good results on these strategic decisions. Turkey’s own results are included in this.
Where is Gulf Air trying to position itself amongst other Gulf region based airlines?
Previously we used to compete with these carriers on almost every route, and as a result we were unable to gain market dominance, especially on long- and medium-range routes.
Our new strategy differentiates us from our regional competitors. Our focus is now to find and maintain under-served niche markets where we can have a leadership position. Our new fleet gives us the flexibility to do this.
What are the benefits of operating out of Bahrain?
We have the unique advantage of operating the largest network in the Middle East. Bahrain’s strategic location and prominence as the freest economy in the Middle East region helped us to connect Bahrain with other important financial centers in the world. This is where we want to be. Our brand name is very well established in Turkey. We would like to encourage trade transactions between the two countries. We would also like to encourage people to see Bahrain as a tourist destination.
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