Like many emerging economies with strong international trade and distant centres of population, Turkey has seen interest in business aviation soar in recent years. However, in common with similar countries, inadequate infrastructure and an immature regulatory environment is holding back the sector’s growth.
“Turkey has really boomed in terms of business aviation demand in the last six or seven years,” says Fabio Gamba, chief executive of the European Business Aviation Association, which in October 2013 held a conference in Istanbul to discuss ways of ensuring the industry became a “growth engine” for the Turkish economy.
Although Istanbul alone had 37 billionaires in 2013, according to Forbes – just behind London and Hong Kong on that index of wealth – the Turkish business jet fleet is relatively small, with just 120 aircraft on the register (not counting those operated by the armed forces and police) and a small number of service providers, mostly based at Istanbul Atatürk, the country’s main hub. “The sector is still in its infancy compared with the size of the economy,” says Gamba.
The biggest problems identified by EBAA included access to ground infrastructure – mainly due to overcrowding at Atatürk, home to rapidly growing Turkish Airlines. With the country’s focus over the past decade being the growth of its airline sector and attracting tourism, the absence of specific regulation for general aviation was seen as another hurdle.
Although not a challenge exclusive to business aviation, lack of capacity at Atatürk is a “huge drag” on the sector, says Gamba. Istanbul’s only other airport is on the Asian side of the city, tens of kilometres from the financial centre. “With Turkish Airlines doing so well, it is taking up the whole of the airport and business aviation is squeezed out. It is difficult to explain to someone who is paying a lot of money [for his business aircraft] that he can’t fly when he wants to fly,” he says.
Although the country’s economy largely rode out the global crisis of 2009 and 2010, growth in Turkey’s business aviation sector has dipped due largely to conflict in Syria and Iraq, two of the country’s biggest trading partners. “We are still not back to levels we were at three years ago,” says Gamba.
However, he believes that the slump is termporary and “you will see a rebound – with one caveat, and that is infrastructure”. Assuming Istanbul’s third airport opens as planned by the turn of the decade, business aviation could at last, he says, be freed up to expand in line with the economy.
Several business aviation concerns have set up operations in Turkey in anticipation of a growing fleet. They include Swiss maintenance and completions house AMAC which in 2012 opened a hangar at Atatürk to service Pilatus PC-12s. Last year, it added an authorised service station status for Dassault Falcon.
EA Aviation, an investor in the new Eclipse Aerospace, which relaunched Vern Raburn’s Eclipse 500 very-light jet as the Eclipse 550 in 2010, represents the marque in the Middle East, North Africa and former Soviet Union and operates a service and upgrade facility for the region’s 30 or so in-service Eclipse 500s at Atatürk airport.
EA’s founder, Ekim Alptekin, admits business aviation growth in Turkey is lagging that of commercial aviation. “We still need to change awareness and improve infrastructure,” he says. However, he maintains the Eclipse 550 will appeal to a new generation of entrepreneurs keen to fly themselves between appointments, both within Turkey itself and the 50 countries Alptekin says the aircraft can reach from Istanbul.
Source: Flight International