Çağatay Erciyes: I do not think we can afford to hire them. Joking aside, unlike other Foreign Ministries, we have a dedicated department established in the late 1970’s following the occurrence of the aviation related crisis in the Aegean Sea. We have career diplomats serving there. The department functions within the Deputy Directorate General for Maritime-Aviation-Border Affairs.
The main responsibilities of the department are to ensure inter-agency coordination, the issuance of diplomatic flight clearances for the aircraft to be operated within the Turkish airspace, the conduct of aviation relations with the other states and international organizations operating in the field of civil aviation, principally the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL). The Department is also responsible for the long-standing Aegean disputes related to airspace issues between Turkey and Greece, which, in essence, fall under three main categories involving the breadth of national airspace, the Flight Information Region (FIR) and related problems, and the other unilateral and arbitrary actions of Greece in the international airspace of the Aegean. Briefly, the Aviation Department is responsible for maintaining Turkey’s sovereign rights in the airspace.
I have spent most of my professional career working in different capacities at the Directorate General for Bilateral Political and Maritime-Aviation-Border Affairs. I have been serving as the Acting Director General since December 2018. I had also been Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) between 2012 and 2015. The Ministry led me to pursue a specialist career path rather than a generalist one.
Çağatay Erciyes: Having made great strides in the civil aviation sector in recent years, Turkey serves as an important example of how civil aviation should be turned into a strategic tool on a world scale. Let me share with you some figures as the numbers speak for themselves. According to the latest key aviation data revealed by the ICAO, Turkey ranks 12th worldwide by Revenue Passenger-Kilometers and 11th by Revenue Ton-Kilometers on scheduled services.
According to the Airports Council International (ACI) 2018 Report, in terms of hub connectivity, Atatürk Airport, having increased its hub connectivity by +4.8% over the preceding year, ranked 7th worldwide.
The newly opened Istanbul Airport is expected to serve 90 million passengers a year in the first stage. This number can be increased up to 200 million passengers a year in the coming period.
Among the airports, accommodating more than 25 million passengers a year, Sabiha Gökçen and Antalya Airports, ranking 1st and 2nd respectively, became top performers in direct connectivity considering the last ten years from 2008 to 2018.
In 2018, the airports in Turkey hosted around 210 million passengers in total as the number of domestic passengers increased by 3% and the number of international passengers increased by 16% compared to the previous year.
Besides, according to EUROCONTROL 2018 data, excluding the overflights, the three countries that contributed most to the growth in network traffic in Europe are Germany, Spain, and Turkey, respectively.
Turkish civil aviation is embodied in Turkish Airlines’ (THY) achievements, which is no doubt the most valuable Turkish brand. THY, the locomotive of Turkish civil aviation, has maintained its growth momentum for decades.
Turkey’s national flag carrier THY has built one of the largest air transport networks for both passenger and cargo flights. Having served approximately 75 million passengers in 2018, THY currently flies to 258 cities in 124 countries, and 49 cities in Turkey.
Additionally, THY, flying to far-flung corners of the world, bridges developing countries with the developed world and contributes to extending Turkey’s footprint in these regions. THY, executing flights to 56 cities in 37 countries on the African continent, also ranks 1st in terms of the connectivity provided from Africa, Far East and the Middle East to the world.
Çağatay Erciyes: It could not be denied that Turkey enjoys geographical advantages in terms of transport in a broad sense. However, these are the well-structured policies that have been followed since 2003, as well as the rational mobilization of investments, which led to success in the field of civil aviation. Especially over the past decade, Turkey succeeded in developing a competitive and modern aviation sector, supported by highly competent technical institutions.
Another point of pivotal importance is that Turkish civil aviation, by improving its competitiveness, has become one of the leading actors in a relatively short period in a sector where major and established players are involved.
In economic terms, the most painful aspect of the modern economy is to settle in a developed market. Turkish civil aviation has smoothly exceeded this threshold.
Çağatay Erciyes: Istanbul Airport, as one of the largest airports in the world, will consolidate Turkey’s role as an air transport hub just as Turkey’s geography has served through centuries as a bridge between continents. According to the April 2019 data, 58 airline companies from 38 nations carried out 3,261 departures from Istanbul Airport and these figures keep improving day by day. As soon as the current transition period is left behind, we will witness this high potential gradually materializing.
Çağatay Erciyes: Considering the current situation in the surrounding regions, Turkey can be compared to an oasis for the safety of civil aviation.
Because of the turmoil extending from Ukraine in the north, Syria and Iraq in the southeast, the majority of the traffic from Europe towards Middle East and Asia and vice versa is conducted through Turkish airspace, which in return creates a substantial increase in air traffic flow.
Turkey is committed to the principle that the safety of civil aviation comes first and continues to act responsibly.
Çağatay Erciyes: The ICAO is a UN specialized agency in the field of civil aviation, established under the Chicago Convention of 1944 in Montreal. The Organization aims to ensure the development of international air transport in a safe, secure, sustainable and environmentally responsible manner. In my opinion, besides technological developments, the ICAO has also substantially contributed to making air transport the most secure and the safest means of transportation in the world. The ICAO continuously sets standards and rules for all aspects of civil aviation, as well as ensuring their successful implementation on a global scale.
These standards and rules cover a wide range of issues including passport control, airspace management, airports, navigation, aircraft safety and security measures, and commercial regulations. The Organization currently has 193 members and 7 regional offices. Having its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec, the ICAO has a Council composed of 36 Member States with affiliated committees working under it, a General Assembly that convenes once every 3 years, and a Secretariat consisting of approximately 500 international personnel. Many Member States including Turkey also have Permanent Missions to the ICAO.
Çağatay Erciyes: Turkey-ICAO relations have historically followed a bumpy course. Having actively participated in the establishment of the ICAO during the period from 1944 to 1950 and taken part in the first Council as a founding member of the ICAO, Turkey unfortunately did not attach adequate importance to the Organization during the period from 1950 to 1974. Thus, Turkey missed the opportunity to become adequately involved in the deliberations regarding the sharing of Flight Information Regions (FIR) in the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea regions during this period. After 1974, bringing the aviation dimensions of the Aegean and Cyprus issues to the ICAO agenda has overshadowed Turkey-ICAO relations.
In the following period, an office in charge of the ICAO was established within the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa in 1978, which was then raised to the level of Permanent Mission in Montreal in 1990. The main duties of the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the ICAO is to protect Turkey’s rights and interests in the field of civil aviation and to increase Turkey’s level of representation in the ICAO in parallel to the development of the Turkish civil aviation sector as well as to increase its contribution to the Organization.
Turkey, once only best known for the Aegean and Cyprus issues in the ICAO, now comes to the fore with the level of development and large investments in the field of civil aviation. Turkey was re-elected to the Council, the governing body of the ICAO, after 64 years in 2016 for a three-year term. Considering the current level of Turkish civil aviation, Turkey continues to work on achieving permanent representation in the Council.
Çağatay Erciyes: The future of Turkish civil aviation is very bright. It is not just my opinion. The international community including the ICAO also considers it in the same way. Turkey has one of the fastest growing civil aviation sectors in the world.
With the great achievements that we all are proud of such as the fact that THY is the airline which flies to the most countries in the world and has become a global brand, the record number of aircraft orders given by Turkish airline companies, the growing operations of the other Turkish airline carriers as well as operating the world's largest airport, the developments in the provision of air traffic and ground services, we are considered to be a model for the international aviation community.
Parallel to this growth in air transport and the developments in the aviation industry also make us proud. I hold the opinion that we should attach special importance to developing our human resources through this growth process, as well.
Çağatay Erciyes: Exactly. I can easily say that with the rapid development of the Turkish aviation sector in recent years, it has become one of the important soft power pillars on which Turkish foreign policy is based. The newly opened Turkish embassies and the new routes opened by THY, especially in Africa and South America, enable Turkey’s bilateral relations with many countries to develop rapidly as well as increase and diversify foreign trade