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Analysis: Airline Diversity in Istanbul and Doha
Airline partnerships hold the key to growing diversity, which often benefit home carriers, but only time will tell.
On the very last day of 2023, an Air China A330 landed at Istanbul International Airport and the airline became the 100th carrier to serve the airport. Istanbul airport has seen strong growth in the past few years and this is especially in the form of new carriers; it is one of just three airports in the world to host 100 or more airlines.
A big part of growth is expanding the number of airlines in and out of airports and a diversity of carriers is a common trait for global hubs. In 2023, more and more airports, especially in the Middle East, are catching on, growing the number of carriers and at the same time, destinations.
One way for airports to build a portfolio of airlines is by bringing in the home airline’s partners. Vice versa, airports with more airlines and services also benefit the base airlines with more connections and possibilities of cooperating. Airline diversity also benefits another group massively – the customers – by offering more competition and choices which can mean cheaper fares.
Istanbul Airport has pursued an aggressive expansion and was ‘aiming 100 airlines by the 100th anniversary of the Republic’ as Türkiye was celebrating its 100th birthday in 2023. The project, seemingly political and symbolic, also carries significance in the direction that the airport is pursuing: more airlines and less (over)reliance on the hub airlines.
The project achieved its aim. With Air China from Beijing, the airport now has 100 airlines. Among others, the airport welcomed daily services from Thai International from Bangkok, China Eastern from Shanghai, AirBaltic from Riga and Wizz Air from London and Budapest. Many of the new airlines have signed agreements with Turkish Airlines.
The airline also launched specific sub-projects to strategically position itself to be a top candidate for airlines looking for new routes. Its initiative, ‘China Friendly Airport.’ which entails creating language-friendly websites and services and facilitating easy transits, certainly worked to its desire with two new Chinese carriers in 2023.
Istanbul’s success can be attributed to the support from the Turkish government and the airport’s effort to appeal to different demographic groups and attract travelers. However, only time will tell if the growth will be sustainable.
Doha and Qatar Airways
Doha has also seen its fair share of new carriers in 2023 and the trend will continue into 2024. Oneworld alliance partner Iberia started its flight from Madrid, a first for the carrier, and JAL will start flying from Haneda, also a first for the airline. Doha will become both airlines’ only Middle Eastern destination.
Xiamen Airlines, not a oneworld carrier but a new partner and subsidiary of close Qatar partner China Southern, launched flights to both Beijing Daxing and Xiamen in 2023, both in a business partnership with Qatar Airways. China Southern seems likely to start its own service too as Qatar Airways owns a 5% stake in the airline along with codeshare agreements.
These new additions build on the 2022 entries of Finnair flying to three Nordic capitals of Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Stockholm, and American Airlines whose service has now switched to its Philadelphia hub.
There is no doubt that there are massive incentives and in many cases, Qatar Airways would help with sales of the seats with various guarantees under joint business agreements. However, this frees up capacity for Qatar, which was a problem during the World Cup and the A350 paint saga, and continues due to slow deliveries and rapid growth of demand. At the same time, it could be a great way to cultivate these markets and turn Doha into a preferable transit location.
For these new carriers, Doha can represent an access point to many unserved destinations with Qatar’s network. Iberia’s Asian network hasn’t recovered partly due to the Russian airspace closure and Qatar can help with reaching those destinations. On the other hand, JAL does not have any flights to Africa or the Middle East and has a thin Europe network that is impacted by Russian airspace as well.
For Chinese carriers especially, putting airplanes to Doha is a great use of the equipment that are under-utilized due to the slow recovery in another market, specifically to North America where there are many complications on top of slow recovery. Finnair faces a similar scenario with Doha being a great way to get some flying hours into the A330s.
Diversity Benefits Home Carriers Too
In 2023, Middle Eastern airlines have fully embraced the fact that the diversity of carriers and partnerships helps their business. There are three main reasons:
- Increasing capacity and destination offerings: especially seen from the case of Qatar Airways in Doha where partners provide relief to capacity needs.
- Creating new slots and flying rights: Middle Eastern airlines often face restrictions as they almost always offer more capacity and serve markets unilaterally. Emirates’ partnership with Air Canada which allows it to launch a new Montreal route is a great example.
- Capturing more demand: when loyalty and brand recognition are considered, local airlines often have a bigger customer base and they just know their market better. Hub airlines can benefit from their partners feeding more passengers in to connect. The agreements with Chinese carriers can be said to be the case for both Doha and Istanbul.
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