TBY talks to Muharrem Dörtkaşlı, President & CEO of Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), on the development of the company, major projects and accomplishments, and adding higher value-added products to the export list.

Muharrem Dörtkaşlı
Muharrem Dörtkaşlı was born in Çankırı in 1961. He graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Middle East Technical University in 1983. Dörtkaşlı started working at Turkish Aircraft Industries (TUSAŞ) in 1991 as a Program Control Office Leader, and then served as Deputy General Manager between June 1997 and March 2003. He was promoted as the General Manager in March 2003, and continued in this post until the dissolution of the company. He is a Board Member of TAI, which entrusted him as the President and CEO of the company in October 2005. Since then, he has continued his duty as the President and CEO of TAI. He is a Member of the Board of Defense Industry Manufacturers Organization (SaSaD) and also the Vice-Chairman of Turkish-US Business Council of DEİK, and Head of the Defense-Security Commission.

How has Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) grown and developed since its establishment?

TAI was established to build F-16 aircraft. At the time, we were owned as part of a joint venture with Lockheed Martin. That partnership was planned for 25 years, but both parties decided to renegotiate the terms. We did not have a common vision for the company, so we parted amicably and nationalized 100% of TAI in January 2005. During the 20-year period when we worked as a subcontractor of Lockheed Martin, TAI delivered many aircraft and helicopters. Since 2005, we have been making investments in engineering, which we had not done much of in the past. We had a new vision for the role of the company. In 2005, the value of the company was $60 million with about 2,000 employees, and our R&D activities were negligible. Our revenue was about $75 million-$80 million, and the total backlog was about $1.5 billion-$2 billion. Today, we are preparing for an IPO, in which we expect to the company to be valued at between $3.5 billion and $4 billion. The company now has over 4,000 employees, 1,600 of them are engineers and 1,000 that specifically work on R&D activities. Our revenue is $850 million and we are one of the largest defense and aerospace companies in the world. We export about $528 million, which is half of the entire defense and aerospace output of Turkey. The total backlog is over $20 billion. We are working with engineers on indigenous projects such as helicopters, aircraft, UAVs, and satellites.

What are some of your main projects and accomplishments?

TAI's diversified product and capability range grants a unique and unmatched position for TAI in the international marketplace. Fixed and rotary wing platforms on the one end and unmanned systems and modernization suites on the other, which provide a challenging and advantageous scope as well. The ANKA MALE Class UAV System, the T129 Attack/Tactical Reconnaissance Helicopter, and the C130 Avionics Modernization Suite are the three major offerings of TAI, which have the technical superiority and commercial competitiveness advantage in the international market. Worldwide recognition and demand for the subject products encourage TAI's international market development activities. On the other side, TAI's corporate image is being developed carefully to assist future business relations. International collaborations such as the JSF and A400M also help to enhance this image as living demonstrators of successful international partnerships. We have a multi-billion-dollar contract with Lockheed Martin for the F-35 program, and we are still building F-16s under a Lockheed license. With General Electric, we have a joint venture called Turkish Engine Industries (TEI). On the International Defense Companies list last year, we were ranked as the 83rd largest. We are very proud of this accomplishment, but our target is to be ranked 25th by 2023, when we aim to reach over $2.5 billion in revenues.

Why is it important for Turkey to have its own brands in sectors such as defense, aerospace, and automotive?

We are the 17th biggest economy in the world. The 2023 target is to reach $500 billion in exports, which is four times what we have today. Currently, the average value of 1 kilogram of Turkish exports, from airplanes to hazelnuts, is $1.40. In South Korea, the average is $3.40 and in Germany it is $4.10. Their export products have more value-added because they are exporting local products. Therefore, by 2023, we can either quadruple the amount we export, which is not possible because global consumption will not quadruple over that time, or we can increase the value-added of Turkish exports. In the aerospace sector, our average value per kilogram is $850, and for integrated products it is over $5,000 per kilogram.

What are TAI's plans for the FX fighter program being carried out in partnership with Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI)?

South Korea has its own fighter program, which is called KFX. We have our own FX program, which is in the conception phase. Currently, we are examining the feasibility of the project. Instead of developing fighters individually, we realized that Korea and Turkey can work together to build a strike fighter. With a shared workload, Korea and Turkey can enjoy increased benefits.