Turkish Airlines is looking to set up a low-cost operation as it works to join the Star Alliance in early 2008. The carrier says it may use Antalya-based leisure airline SunExpress, which it owns jointly with Germany's Thomas Cook, as the base for its new low-cost subsidiary. It is unclear when the new airline, provisionally named Turkish Express, will be formally established, but Turkish says a launch is not imminent.

"SunExpress is a subsidiary company and very efficient as a low-cost operator," says commercial executive vice-president Orhan Sivrikaya. "We're evaluating whether SunExpress can take on this mission or not."

In December Star formally voted to accept Turkish as the 21st member of the alliance, including future members Air China and Shanghai Airlines. The vote enables Turkish to begin the process of integration into Star, a process which is expected to take about 16 months. Turkish chose Star over SkyTeam in August 2006 and its membership was already accepted in principle by Star's members.

The Istanbul-based carrier serves 103 international and 28 domestic destinations with 102 aircraft. Star says Turkish's inclusion will satisfy its immediate requirement for a carrier to cover the Middle East.

The alliance has highlighted the Middle East as a "white spot" - an area of relatively thin coverage within the combined network of its members.

Star chief executive Jaan Albrecht says Turkish, with 16 destinations in the Middle East and Arabian Africa, plus another seven in central Asia, would largely meet this demand. "It's not Middle Eastern but it's like a bridge between Europe and Asia," says Albrecht.

"Our goal is to become a global brand in the world aviation sector," says Turkish chairman Candan Karlitekin.

Turkish Airlines will formally join the Star Alliance in early 2008

Source: Airline Business