a broken road with a runway in the background

Aviation and Turkey-Syria Earthquake Relief Efforts

On the 6th of February 2023, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southeast Turkey and Syria, followed by at least 20 aftershocks. The disaster has already claimed the lives of over 33,000 people, leaving the region in urgent need of aid and assistance.

This article explores the impact of the earthquake on Turkish airlines and airports, as they work to evacuate victims, operate relief flights, and transport rescue and relief workers to the affected areas.

Amid the chaos, how has the Turkish aviation industry been affected by this disaster?

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines has been operating hundreds of evacuation flights to and from the affected areas and it has evacuated close to 150,000 people since the disaster occurred, operating more than 700 evacuation flights.

On the 6th of February, the Turkish flag carrier diverted 80 aircraft to help in relief efforts in the earthquake-affected areas. Turkish Airlines was the first airline to participate in the rescue and relief efforts. It has coordinated relief efforts with the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority. Through the organization, volunteers arriving on the flag carrier’s relief flights have been quickly integrated into rescue and support efforts.

Turkish Airlines has also confirmed that they have received multiple requests from international aid and rescue organizations to travel to the affected regions. In response, the flag carrier has been airlifting the aid free of charge from the members of rescue and support missions whose petitions are approved by the Turkish embassies and consulates in their respective countries.

Bilal Ekşi, the CEO of Turkish Airlines expressed the airline’s support and gratitude for the thousands of volunteers that poured into airport terminals wanting to help with relief efforts wherever possible. Turkish Airlines is offering free change and refund rights for flights purchased before the 11th of February and until the 30th of June.

“About 11,780 of our volunteer citizens who came to our airports to go to the earthquake zone following the invitation of AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Authority), were taken to Adana, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, and Urfa with a total of 80 flights this morning until 7 a.m.”

Bilal Eksi, Turkish Airlines CEO

Turkish Airlines is continuing its effort to transport as many people and humanitarian aid between the region and Istanbul Airport. It is operating close to 150 evacuation flights on a daily basis, as per local reports.

Turkish Airlines Evacuation Flights

In cooperation with Disaster and Emergency Management Authority and the competent authorities, Turkish Airlines’ operations continue uninterruptedly to deliver humanitarian aid and search-and-rescue teams to earthquake zones and to evacuate its’ citizens from the region.

From the day the disaster took place (February 6,7,8,9,10,11), a total of 1595 search and rescue and aid teams of 78,033 people have reached the disaster area; With 790 expeditions, we ensured the evacuation of 139,438 citizens from the region.

Turkish Airlines spokesperson

Turkish Airlines further stated that it will continue the dispatch of search and rescue teams (estimated 24,277 passengers) with 136 expeditions to the region. It anticipates the evacuation of 24,610 passengers from the region with the 144 flights it has planned.

Moreover, its cargo operation has delivered 6316 tons of aid materials to the disaster area with 94 cargo flights from the moment of the disaster. In addition, 1693 tons of aid cargo were transported by the carrier to Turkey from abroad.

Turkish Airlines has been operating more than 30 domestic and international cargo flights since the moment of the disaster. 

Pegasus Airlines

Pegasus Airlines has also been operating relief flights to support the earthquake-affected areas. It operated a total of 22 relief and 86 civilian passenger flights between the 6th and 8th of February from those areas.

The Turkish low-cost carrier has launched free relief flights to support the affected areas. Similar to Turkish Airlines, it is also coordinating its efforts with the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency. It has been transporting aid and emergency supplies to the regions from its base at Sabiha Gökçen Airport free of charge.

“In coordination with the Turkish Red Crescent and local authorities, if you deliver your aid to Sabiha Gökçen Airport we will transport it free of charge. Please plan and coordinate your deliveries by contacting the Turkish Red Crescent and local authorities”.

Pegasus Airlines

Furthermore, to assist with the evacuations from Adana, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Kayseri, Malatya, and Şanlıurfa airports, Pegasus Airlines is operating all additional evacuation flights up to and including the 19th of February 2023, free of charge. Between the 6th and 9th of February, Pegasus Airlines operated 169 flights to evacuate a total of 30,771 people from the earthquake zones.

Pegasus Airlines has donated five million Turkish liras to the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency to support those affected by the earthquake and three million Turkish liras to the Ahbap Association on behalf of its employees.

Furthermore, Pegasus airlines said that passengers traveling to or from Kahramanmaraş and the surrounding provinces affected by the earthquake are eligible to modify or cancel their flights scheduled between the 6th and 21st of February for free on their website, or the mobile application. Changes to flights can be made until the 31st of March 2023.

SunExpress Airlines

Another Turkish carrier, SunExpress Airlines has been carrying passengers and relief teams free of charge, in order to facilitate travel to and from the earthquake zone. Passengers can visit the airline’s website and book their domestic direct flights to/from Adana, Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Kayseri, Malatya, and Mardin free of charge until the 13th of February.

SunExpress Airlines has also announced that passengers who have made a booking before the 5th of February for one of their domestic or international flights to/from Adana, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Erzurum, Gaziantep, Hatay, Malatya, Mardin, Kars, Kayseri, Samsun, Trabzon, and Van with a departure up to the 28th of February, 2023, can rebook or refund their existing reservation on their website or the SunExpress mobile application. The respective tickets can be rebooked for flights with a departure on or before the 31st of March 2023, without any fare difference.

Fixed Rate Flights

Additionally, Turkish Airlines also set a fixed rate for airfare into and out of the earthquake-affected regions at 100 Turkish liras ($5.30). As thousands of people were desperate to leave the affected areas, the flag carrier said that this is affordable and enough to help cover some of the operating costs. The airline further stated that it wanted to ensure that everyone who needs to leave the affected area can do so at an affordable rate.

Turkish Airlines has flown thousands of volunteers at this airfare.

Moreover, the Turkish Air, Sea, Land, Coast Guard, and Special Forces Command planes and helicopters have been flying continuously since the first days of the earthquake and continue to evacuate citizens who were rescued from the earthquake.


Airport Closure

Several major airports across the region were damaged by the earthquake, leading to their closures. The damaged airports include Adana Sakirpasa Airport, Hatay Airport, and Gaziantep Oğuzeli International Airport. The airport in the southern Turkish province of Adana only sustained some damage to its terminal like other buildings in the area but didn’t sustain damage to its runway. Even though the airport was closed for passenger flights, it was open for aircraft carrying relief supplies or airlifting people out.

However, Hatay Airport was completely closed for around a week as its runway suffered severe damage due to the earthquake. As seen in footage shared on the internet, a large crack could be seen in the middle of the runway. As a result, local authorities halted all flight services to and from the airport.

However, the repair of the damaged runway is already complete and flight operations have resumed at Hatay Airport.

The first flight to Hatay Airport after repairing the runway

Another affected airport was Gaziantep Oğuzeli International Airport. Even though it has only suffered minor damage, with no damage sustained to the runway, it remained on high alert as it is located close to the earthquake’s epicenter. Only medical evacuation operations were prioritized from this airport initially.

Global Humanitarian Aid

In addition to the tremendous endeavors being undertaken by our members in the affected regions—namely Corendon Airlines, Freebird Airlines, MNG Airlines, Pegasus Airlines, SunExpress, SyrianAir and Turkish Airlines—airlines globally are making individual efforts to transport equipment, aid, and specialist personnel to the affected areas. Some of the airlines involved include:

  • Aegean Airlines
  • Azerbaijan Airlines
  • El Al
  • Emirates
  • Euroatlantic Airways
  • FedEx
  • FlyBaghdad
  • KamAir
  • Lufthansa Cargo
  • Middle East Airlines – Air Liban
  • Mongolian Airlines
  • National Airlines
  • PIA
  • Qatar Airways Cargo
  • Saudia Cargo
  • Smartwings Group
  • Wamos Air

Emirates and Lufthansa have been operating several flights carrying relief supplies to southern Turkey.

“We are deeply affected by the extent of the destruction in the Turkish-Syrian border region and want to help. The willingness of our employees from the Lufthansa Cargo environment and the Help Alliance to help is enormous, and plans were made immediately to organize a relief flight as quickly as possible.”

Dorothea von Boxberg, CEO of Lufthansa Cargo

“Emirates SkyCargo plans to dedicate cargo space for around 100 tonnes of humanitarian relief goods over the course of the next two weeks across its daily flight operations to Istanbul. The critical emergency supplies carried on Emirates will then be delivered by local organizations to affected areas in southern Turkey and northern Syria.”


National Air Cargo & National Airlines teams coordinated a series of B747-400F flights together with USAID transporting 700 tons of relief supplies to Adana, Turkey. From plastic tarpaulins to hygiene supplies, kitchen sets, toiletries and other necessary relief and rehabilitation items are airlifted as part of this humanitarian mission.

Delta Air Lines has announced that it would contribute $100,000 to the American Red Cross in support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ response. American Red Cross is Delta’s longest-standing NGO partner.

Boeing has also announced that it is donating $500,000 for the relief efforts. Moreover, India’s Garuda Aerospace has sent drones to support rescue and relief movements whereas Mexico has sent rescue dogs who are all trained to find earthquake survivors, to Turkey.

Our thoughts remain with those families affected by this disaster.

Individuals and organizations wishing to send aid and relief equipment to the earthquake-affected regions can send their help through Turkey and Syria’s embassies in their respective countries, the Red Cross, funding pages, or other NGOs, that are accepting donations.

Feature Image via Twitter