Lufthansa has admitted to having general talks with Turkish Airlines about co-operation but the Turkish Prime Minister appears to have let the cat out of the bag by suggesting this could lead to the creation of a joint-company.
We could be wrong but this does not sound likely. It looks rather that the Turks are putting pressure on Germany to come up with some sort of deal.
It is one thing for shareholders in British Airways and Iberia to be persuaded to give up their individual holdings and take shares in a holding company instead but to expect shareholders in a tightly-regulated European company to swap their shares for a new company with extensive exposure in a country outside Europe, which does not have the highest reputation for shareholder disclosure, is surely a step too far.
However, there are many things that can be done without a full financial union. Lufthansa already has a joint shareholding with Turkish Airlines in a Turkish charter airline and Turkish Airlines is a big customer of Lufthansa Technik so the two companies are used to working together.
Turkish Airlines would gain much-needed prestige from any fuller co-operation with Lufthansa whereas Lufthansa would gain a partner that is a match for the Gulf airlines that it sees as such a threat to its longhaul market. Just looking at route maps, a deal could make sense.
The big danger in this is for Lufthansa. They might be a bit stodgy but they have a fine reputation for safety. Turkish Airlines have been spending a lot of money on polishing their image and their safety record has improved from the dismal situation some years ago but there are still too many stories of sloppy behaviour at all levels of the company which would not be tolerated in a true top class airline.
A number of co-operation agreements have been made between airlines recently and Lufthansa might feel itself under pressure to react. Maybe they do need a partner but we must hope Lufthansa does not allow itself to be pressurised into something it could well live to regret.
You will probably have read the story about a Qantas 767 being turned back as it was taxiing because of suspicions the Captain had been drinking. According to reports, the cabin crew were concered about the Captain’s behaviour, called the Operations Manager, the aircraft was ordered back to the stand and the Captain stood down from the flight.
Whilst one must wonder why the First Officer did not do anything, it was good that the cabin crew were able to raise the alarm. They called the airline’s Operation Centre in the full knowledge that, unless the call was entirely malicious, they would not face any disciplinary issue over delaying the flight. Qantas has a very strong safety culture which, like any well-run airline, encourages staff to voice any concerns they have about the operation. It also has strong unions.
In June, Turkish Airlines sent text messages sacking 345 staff (including pilots, cabin crew and engineers) for stopping work in protest against a law to make strikes at the airline illegal.
Turkish Airlines has been condemned around the world for its action and the International Transport Workers’ Federation has arranged protests in a number of capitals and is still trying to negotiate with the airline and the Turkish government.
No one likes airline strikes. Some unions, including those at Qantas, have shown a marked reluctance to move with the times but it is surely safer to fly with an airline where employees feel confident they will be protected when they have concerns about safety than with an airline that wants to ban strikes and will summarily dismiss anyone who attempts to protest.
Turkish Airlines has fought hard over the last few years to build a reputation as a modern, secure, international airline but there are some rather worrying gaps appearing in the carefully created PR image that no amount of sponsorship of glamorous football clubs will hide. The most recent blow is totally self-inflicted and suggests the airline has little idea or concern about how it is viewed by the rest of the world.
The Turkish parliament is debating a law to ban aviation workers from striking. This is just one of many signs of the government’s swing to totalitarianism.
The Turkish Civil Aviation Union reacted by urging members to go sick – the only method of protest available. Turkish Airlines instantly dismissed 150 staff (according to rumours, mostly engineers, cabin staff and at least one Captain).
Turkish Airlines has had one of the worst safety records of any airline in the world. That has improved but, as the accident in Amsterdam showed, they still have problems to overcome. No one likes strikes but the right to strike is a fundamental liberty in any civilised society. If airline employees are fearful of speaking out against their employer or government, safety will be the first casualty.
This is an ideal question for a trivia quiz because we doubt many will get the right answer. The only problem is that we are a little dubious because the claim depends on how you define Europe. Anyway, according to figures for last December, the largest “European” flag-carriers are Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, British Airways and – guess who – Turkish Airlines.
Whatever the niceties of the definition, there is no question that the airline has made astonishing progress in the last decade. It has doubled in size in just five years. They currently have 150 aircraft and plan to have 200 by 2014. They now have quite a decent reputation for cabin service on European flights and, as their intercontinental flights increase, they are working on bringing the standard there to “at least” the level of the existing major airlines. They have copied the plan of Emirates and much of their custom is from European passengers connecting in Istanbul. Their position between Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa gives them a huge geographical advantage. Politically, they can also claim to be “neutral” or “friendly” in certain countries where western airlines are looked on with some suspicion.
They have also shown considerable marketing skill. Sponsoring Manchester United and Barcelona does not come cheap but it you are going to get into sports sponsorship, you should aim for the best. They have also some shrewd sponsorship deals in tennis and basketball. Their advertising has developed a reputation for being quirky and amusing – the Kevin Costner “celebrity” ad became a YouTube hit (and was even featured on this blog!).
So, everything is going swimmingly for Turkish Airlines but just one thing holds them back…
They used to have a shocking safety record. This has greatly improved but there are still far too many blips (not all of which get any form of press coverage). Cabin crew have been trained to smile, airport staff persuaded to be a little less grumpy and aircraft interiors refreshed but it seems that the airline’s management has yet to persuade all their pilots to fly by the book. Without stricter controls on the pilots and an unforgiving attitude to errors, Turkish Airlines can grow as big as it wants but is not likely to enjoy the status it thinks it merits.
A Turkish Airlines Captain has resigned following a botched landing at Brussels a few days ago when he scraped both engines on the runway. No one was hurt.
It is unfortunate that the pilot decided to resign immediately. Even pretty obvious examples of pilot error are rarely as simple as they might appear. To put it bluntly, well-run airlines have far fewer examples of pilot error than badly-run airlines.
Turkish Airlines appears to have had a string of relatively minor incidents (“minor” in that there were no injuries) which suggest that the airline’s accident-prone past is not yet buried.
The airline has revamped its logo, cabin standards and general passenger service – maybe now is a good time to have a thorough overhaul of pilot training and supervision.
The report published last week on a near-miss over London in 2009 has caused some concern amongst the pilot community. A misunderstanding between a business jet and a controller at London City Airport led to the small jet being set on a collision course with a passenger jet. BALPA has pointed out that the business jet was not fitted with the latest type of collision avoidance systems which are mandatory on passenger jets. The union is – quite sensibly – calling for business jets to have the same systems as passenger aircraft since they fly in the same air space.
All very wise – but the most sophisticated type of system is of no use if pilots ignore it. In this instance, the pilots of the passenger jet ignored three separate warnings and it was a pilot in the jump-seat (behind the operating pilots) who spotted the business jet and made sure his colleagues took the necessary action.
Somehow, it is not a surprise that this was a Turkish Airlines aircraft.
The airline has made huge efforts to improve its dreadful safety record and is trying hard to establish itself as one of the world’s leading and most progressive carriers. Yet, as this incident shows, they still have serious problems with some of their flight crew. Safe flying is all about following the routine and being disciplined. At least some of Turkish Airlines’ pilots appear to have some difficulty with this concept.
If Turkish Airlines want to be taken seriously as a major airline, they not only have to improve pilot training and monitoring, but show the world they have done so.
You might not realise it but Turkish Airlines is one of the world’s fastest growing airlines. They are increasing their capacity by 20% next year and have been achieving similar growth for the last few years. Thanks to the relatively low costs of being based in Turkey, the airline is also boasting of its profit for 2009. Unfortunately, its CEO, Temel Kotil is not happy, “I am not satisfied with our image”.
The airline’s image used to be dreadful. They were notorious for poor service and had a shocking safety reputation. Service has undoubtedly improved but there are still pockets of resistance amongst some staff who regard passengers as a nuisance. The safety record has also improved but the crash in Amsterdam earlier this year shows that problems remain since the causes of the accident appear to be poor record-keeping of maintenance and bad behaviour by pilots (particularly serious since there was a Training Captain on board).
Mr Kotil is considering an increased advertising budget to improve the image of the airline.
Maybe we can offer some free advice.
By all means spend more on advertising but it will only work if the image presented matches reality. The travelling public are not the fools some airline executives like to imagine. If all levels of service in the airline can be brought up to the best world standards and if all the pilots and maintenance staff can be persuaded/forced to follow the rules, word will soon get out that Turkish Airlines is offering a top service at good rates. If that is not done, all the advertising in the world will not help improve the airline’s image.
Turkish Airlines (THY) has announced it is launching some holiday routes this summer to Antalya, from Dusseldorf, Paris and Stockholm. Schedules have yet to be announced.
Last October the airline announced a substantial commercial aircraft purchase tender for 105 planes valued at US $6 billion, and obviously the current downturn and its patchy safety record is not holding it back.