Bold Move of Turkish Air Carriers: Russia Favoured Over EU and What It Means for Travelers
Thursday, May 11, 2023
Airlines in Turkey are preparing to shift their planes from European routes to flights to Russia. This could lead to fewer flights to Turkey for EU passengers and potential flight cancellations — possibly as early as this summer — say aviation analysts from Flight-Delayed.co.uk
The threat to Russian tourism to Turkey
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Turkey has emerged as one of the havens for Russian tourists. The route between Antalya (Turkey) and Moscow (Russia) has been the most popular flight route among Russian tourists since March 2022.
But while Turkey tries to keep its good relationship with the Russians, they are also an important partner for the United States — and Biden’s administration has been pushing hard for the Turkish to honour international restrictions on flights to Russia. Starting in March 2023, several of Turkey's major airport ground handling companies have halted their services to Russian and Belarussian airlines' aircraft that were manufactured in the West. These services include, among others, refuelling.
While the ban currently affects mostly Boeing planes, which are manufactured in the United States, a similar ban from the European Union on the servicing of Airbus planes (manufactured in France) is expected to follow.
Additionally, Russia has recently further reduced state support for its airlines, leading to the cancellation of not only foreign but also domestic routes.
Filling the gap: airlines in Turkey eye Russian market
This new ban makes it more challenging for Russian airlines to fly to Turkey. Turkey has to act swiftly to address this issue as tourism from Russia significantly contributes to the country’s economy — in the first quarter of 2023, one in every three tourists in Antalya was from Russia.
The idea is for the airlines of Turkey to fly more on routes from Russia and bring more tourists on every flight. At the end of April, Turkish Airlines decided to use their first high-density, all-economy Boeing 777 on the route between Antalya and Moscow. It’s the first of the airline’s 777s to be reconfigured to accommodate 496 passengers on one flight. More single-class Boeings are slated to be deployed on other routes to Russia, including from Antalya to St. Petersburg.
Corendon, another Turkish airline, is also pursuing expansion into the Russian market, despite owing approximately 6 million euros in unpaid taxes to German authorities. The airline has, in the meantime, closed several EU routes.
Moreover, Russia and Turkey agreed to increase the number of flights between the two countries to more than 1,300 per week. Following this agreement, 7 million Russians are expected to visit Turkey in 2023.
What does this mean for EU passengers?
According to aviation analysts from Flight-Delayed.co.uk, the shift of the Turkish airlines to Russia is likely to result in fewer routes between EU countries and Turkey.
Current aircraft availability issues (partly due to Pratt & Whitney’s supply chain problems) mean airlines must carefully select where to fly. Otherwise, they risk falling into the same predicament as the Dutch airline Transavia, which recently had to abruptly cancel dozens of flights due to a shortage of planes. Many airlines, including Turkish Pegasus, are considering leasing aircraft from other companies, but these options are also limited.
With the increased number of flights between Turkey and Russia, Turkish airlines may have to abandon some of their EU routes. This could lead to several flight cancellations. While EU tourists flying with European airlines shouldn’t be overly concerned, those who booked their flights with Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, or Corendon should stay updated with news from Turkey.
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