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CEO Talks: Turkish Airlines Eyes Nonstop Flight To Australia With A350-1000 or 777X

Turkish Airlines is evaluating whether to use Airbus A350-1000XWB or Boeing 777X aircraft for nonstop services to Australia and is nearing a decision on 30 regional aircraft.

The airline already operates 777-300ERs, as well as A350-900s. “But we might go for an additional version, [such as] the A350-1000XWB for ultra-long-range services from Istanbul to Sydney and Melbourne,” Turkish Airlines Chairman Ahmet Bolat told me on the sidelines of the IATA annual general meeting in Doha.

“Australia is the last continent which Turkish Airlines is not flying to.”

Turkish Airlines Chairman Ahmet Bolat

The airline previously was considering the route with A340-500s or 777-200LRs. “But our studies show a big (financial) loss with those aircraft, especially with the current high fuel prices,” he said.

The carrier is also evaluating the 777X. “Whenever we make a decision on one of those aircraft, it will be the right one at the right time. Let’s see how both types develop,” Bolat said. “We don’t need to be a launch customer.”

Turkish Airlines B777-300/ER
Turkish Airlines B777-300/ER

Bolat is not comparing Turkish Airlines’ Australia nonstop services with the Project Sunrise from Qantas, which plans to operate nonstop flights from Australia to London and New York. “This [Sunrise] is a different product with less capacity,” he said. “We need more seats and we’re not going to change our business model.”

Qantas in May announced firm orders for 12 modified A350-1000s, due to be delivered between 2025 and 2028. They will have 238 seats comprising six first-class suites, 52 business-class suites, 40 premium economy seats and 140 in economy. Qantas described the aircraft as being able to fly “nonstop from Australia to almost anywhere in the world,” and plans to use them for the Project Sunrise flights beginning in late 2025.

For Turkish Airlines, the nonstop flying time from Istanbul to Sydney and Melbourne would be approximately 17 hours. Nonstop services could start in 2026 or 2027.

“We need to see the Boeing 777X or Airbus A350-1000’s proof of its maturity,” Bolat said.

In the meantime, until the ultra-long-range capacity is available, the Istanbul-based Star Alliance member already has codeshare connections to Australia. The carrier is also looking for partnerships in Australia and is talking with nations like Malaysia or Indonesia for fifth freedom rights. “If we would have that [fifth-freedom], then we could share the markets with the home carriers,” he said. “With the existing fleet, we cannot do nonstop flights. We are talking with our codeshare partners because it is more comfortable to operate Australia with the same aircraft.”

Turkish Airlines already generates an annual $40 million profit in sales in the Australian market, from passengers flying via Istanbul to its worldwide network.

A220 or Embraer Regional Aircraft for Turkish Airlines

Separately, within the next two to three months, Turkish Airlines will decide on a tender for 30 A220s or Embraer jets. “We collected the offers, and we are working with the engine manufactures of these two aircraft types as well as with the pilots who are going to fly it,” Bolat said. “Whenever we finish our regional aircraft studies, we will make a decision. It is about 30 aircraft in the coming two to three years.”

As of the end of May, Turkish Airlines fleet totaled 376 aircraft.