Who would bet against Turkey?

The following article first appeared as a Comment in the 30 April issue of Flight International

Turkish Airlines’ grandiose plans to become the planet’s biggest airline are being matched by equally ostentatious government ambitions to build the world’s biggest hub airport in Istanbul, both in a manner that threatens to outpace rivals in the Arabian Gulf.

So just how realistic is Istanbul’s bid to become aviation’s next Dubai – or something even bigger? A larger home market, full of young, aspiring travellers getting more affluent is one significant advantage, and a geographical location allowing short-haul flights to destinations in Europe and parts of Africa to which Emirates must fly widebodies is another.

The 150 million passenger, $10 billion, six runway airport project should help Turkish Airlines reach its target of operating 2,000 flights per day while boosting the country’s other emerging carriers, which cannot currently expand in slot-constrained Ataturk.

Yet assuming the new airport goes to plan, and given the scale of the task that’s a very big assumption, will Turkey’s airlines be able to hold on to the reins while growing at such speed? Of course they say they can, but building scale efficiently and not letting costs run out of control will be a huge challenge.

Any number of imponderables may play a hand in shaping Istanbul’s destiny, but given everything Turkey has achieved so far and where it was 10 years ago, who would bet against the country pulling it off again?

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