TBY talks to Binali Yıldırım, Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications, on the benefits of high-speed trains, the possibility of becoming a maritime hub, and the importance of civil aviation.

Binali Yıldırım
Binali Yıldırım received a degree from Istanbul Technical University’s Maritime School. Shortly thereafter, he served as Director General of İDO, Istanbul’s ferry company. He has been Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications since November 2002. He is also a co-founder of the Justice and Development (AK) Party.

How will the development of high-speed trains (HST) benefit the Turkish economy?

Our HST projects are among the most prestigious of our objectives for 2023, the year in which we will be celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic. The demand we have seen for the Ankara-Eskişehir and Ankara-Konya HST lines has convinced us of the importance of further pursuing and developing the HST network in Turkey. When we look at international statistics, we find that the travel frequency of Turkish citizens is much lower than those living in developed countries. This obstructs the homogenous spread of the economy throughout the country and exacerbates regional economic and social imbalances. Besides the direct contribution that the HST investments have on the overall economy, there is also an added dynamism to various sectors and industries in cities connected by the HST network. It will curtail urban migration, thereby contributing to a more balanced demographic distribution of the population, more social sustainability, smarter growth policies, and better urban structuring. Due to the fact that the HST goes through many outer suburbs in the cities it passes through, it will relieve many people of the need to have a second home in another city, thereby easing the burden on family budgets. Those added resources will become disposable income or income that can be spent on other investments, thereby creating new jobs and stimulating the economy. When assessing the economic impact of high-speed rail projects, we have to factor in a whole range of externalities, foremost of which are environmental issues. In the EU, limitations and restrictions have been implemented to reduce dependency on motorways and create alternative modes of transport to reduce the damage to the environment as well as reduce overall costs; railways are a crucial part of this strategy. In line with this, the Ankara-Istanbul HST project is of vital economic importance. Istanbul and Ankara are Turkey's two most populous and prosperous cities. Istanbul is Turkey's business center while Ankara is the political center. Naturally, transportation demand between these two cities is far greater than between any other two cities. That is why we are trying to make the transportation corridor between these two cities as varied, efficient, and advanced as possible. By 2023, we expect that up to 17.7 million people will use the Ankara-Istanbul HST, or 20.6 million passengers per kilometer. With these new HST investments, we expect the total number of road vehicles to decrease by 1.7 million. That means an estimated 354,000 fewer buses and 1.3 million fewer cars. In addition to lightening road traffic throughout the country, there will also be an expected $10.2 million saving on energy consumption, which will contribute to reducing our current account deficit by an estimated $16.1 million. We also expect to save about $58.7 million on traffic accidents and about a 90,617-ton reduction in CO2 emissions, with a total of $9.4 million saved on said emissions. With the savings we make there, the total economic value that the Ankara-Istanbul HST will contribute by 2023 will amount to $78.4 million.

What steps is Turkey taking to develop the maritime sector and become a global maritime center by 2023?

Today, the safest, securest, and cheapest way to trade is by sea. With this in mind, we have been undertaking all the necessary infrastructural work to make Turkey one of the leading countries in maritime trade. In line with this goal, we have been offering VAT-free fuel since 2004, thereby invigorating the coastal shipping sector. Since 2004, businesses have saved over TL2.8 billion on VAT, thus providing an important source of support for the sector. As a result of these efforts, there was a 52% increase in the volume of goods shipped through coastal shipping, a 57% increase in the number of passengers, and a 67% increase in the number of cars. Therefore, coastal shipping has been given an added stimulus and a significant amount of domestic land cargo has shifted to maritime shipping. As part of our government's export-based growth model, our total exports increased 222% from $116.6 billion in 2003, to $375.7 billion in 2011. Parallel with this growth, there has also been a significant increase in international maritime trade, which has jumped from $57 billion in 2003 to $207 billion in 2011, an increase of 263%. This upward trend has also been reflected in the volume of containers and goods that have been handled in Turkey's seaports, with an increase of 91% in total goods handled since 2003 and an increase of 162% in total containers handled. As a result of bilateral and multilateral agreements signed with countries along the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, there has been a 50% increase in the number of vehicles transported by Ro-Ro ships between 2003 and 2011. Compared to 2003, our maritime fleet increased 62%, with a 32% rise in Deadweight Tonnage (DWT). The Turkish maritime freight fleet now ranks 15th in the world as of January 1, 2012. With this historic increase in foreign trade figures, our seaports have also expanded so as to be able to handle the increased trade volume, with new ports built and old ports modernized and expanded. We will build massive ports on the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, and Mediterranean coasts. When we consider all these developments in the last 10 years and keep in mind all the ongoing projects, we find that it is only natural that Turkey becomes the world's pier.

How would you characterize the importance of developing Turkey's civil aviation sector for continued economic growth?

Our ministry began the Regional Aviation Policy in 2003, and with this project our aviation sector was opened to the private sector resulting in a competitive environment that led to rapid growth. With this project, 16 million Turks traveled on aircraft for the first time. The number of airline companies offering scheduled transportation increased from 13 in 2003 to 15 in 2012, three of those companies being solely cargo companies, the number of air taxi operators increased 12% to reach 58, and general aviation operators increased 34% to reach 43. The total number of civil aviation firms also went up from 152 to 172. The number of aircraft increased 130% since 2003, from 160 to 374. When you consider that the average cost of an airplane is $95 million, the 212 aircraft that have been bought over the last nine years contributed $20 billion to the Turkish economy. In 2003, there were a total of 64,617 personnel working in the civil aviation sector. That number rose by 140% in a decade to reach 165,000. As for aviation sector turnover, what used to be $2.2 billion in 2003 now stands at $15 billion. In 2003, total passengers on international and domestic flights numbered just over 34.4 million annually. By the end of 2012, that figure stood at 131 million. In 2002, domestic flights flew only out of two cities to 25 other destinations. Now, seven airline companies fly to 49 destinations from seven cities. Our newly built airports as well as our renovated and modernized airports, all stand out for their unique and modern architecture. The third Istanbul airport, which will have a capacity of 150 million passengers, is now in the bidding stage. Of Turkish airports that rank in the top 100 worldwide in terms of passenger traffic, Istanbul Atatürk Airport ranked 40th in 2008, and it now ranks 30th as of 2012. Antalya Airport, which ranked 71st in 2008, now ranks 55th as of 2012. In terms of European passenger traffic, Istanbul Atatürk Airport ranked 10th in 2008, whereas by 2012 it ranked 8th, while Antalya went up from 25th in 2008 to 13th in 2012. Of the 454 airports in 45 countries across Europe, there was an increase in passenger traffic at 266 airports, and a decrease in the remaining 188. While passenger numbers rose sharply in Turkey and Russia in particular, there was a significant drop in passenger numbers in the UK, Ireland, and Greece. According to the ENAC world airline rankings in terms of passenger traffic, Turkish Airlines (THY) was ranked 19th, while it ranked first in the world in terms of its rate of increase in passenger traffic in 2012, with a rate of 22.3%. We aim to increase our total passenger capacity for all airports to 386 million per annum by 2023. Furthermore, we aim to double the Turkish civil aviation fleet by the same year, increasing it to 750 aircraft, 200 of which will be regional aircraft. I believe that our rapidly developing civil aviation sector will continue to have a positive effect on developing Turkey's rich tourism potential and its rising economy.

“Today, the safest, securest, and cheapest way to trade is by sea."