BY JAMES PEARSON
Friday May 13, 2022
On March 28th, Turkish Airlines ended its
Istanbul-Djibouti-Mogadishu service, replacing it with two non-stop routes:
Istanbul-Mogadishu and Istanbul-Djibouti. This arrangement will seemingly
continue indefinitely, and it means Somalia is now connected non-stop to Europe
on a regular basis.
Istanbul Airport is on the European side Bosporus. It was
the world's second-busiest airport for international passengers last year,
behind only Dubai International.
There have been non-stops before. Due to coronavirus, the
Turkish flag carrier operated Istanbul-Mogadishu non-stop between July and
September 2021, but this was a temporary setup. Non-stops also existed briefly
in 2012, when Turkish Airlines began Somalia service, including on the first
flight – which used the A340-300. Significantly, it is now is a normal,
regular, continual non-stop operation.
Istanbul to Somalia
Turkish Airlines started Istanbul (then Atatürk) to
Mogadishu on March 6th, 2012, despite Somalia's unrest that ordinarily deterred
airlines. The route materialized seven months after the Turkish Prime Minister
visited the country and was Somalia's first long-haul service in nearly 30
Initially operating twice-weekly via Khartoum, it shifted to
routing via Djibouti in August 2012. It continued via Djibouti until March
26th, 2022. Stopping in Djibouti instead cut 162 (261km) miles off the journey
each way, reducing fuel consumption, and block time, meaning it appeared higher
up in booking engines by trip duration. It also had fifth-freedom traffic
rights between the two cities.
A 50-minute turn in
Now that it is non-stop, Turkish Airlines' offering is even
faster, quicker, and more competitive. It has shaved two hours off
Mogadishu-Istanbul, obviously also reducing total travel time for those
connecting across Europe and beyond.
It uses 151-seat B737 MAX 8s, replacing the 169-seat B737
MAX 9s that most recently were used when it was one-stop. The new schedule is
as follows, with all times local:
- Istanbul to Mogadishu: TK646, 02:55-09:50 (6h
55m block time)
- Mogadishu to Istanbul: TK647, 10:40-17:20 (6h
Where do people go?
Booking data shows that approximately 49,000 people transited
Istanbul from Mogadishu in 2019. The UK, Sweden, wider Turkey, Finland, and
Norway saw the most passengers, mainly because of Somali diaspora. Over 250,000
Somalis (and those of Somali heritage) reside in the UK and Nordics, while a
growing number live in Turkey.
While the US and Canada have big Somali populations, Turkish
Airlines carried relatively few people to/from these countries. That is mainly
because of the schedule, which wasn't (and isn't) set up for them. Indeed, at
an airport level, the Turkish flag carrier's leading markets to/from Mogadishu
were as follows:
- London Heathrow
- Stockholm Arlanda
- London Gatwick
One of its most
Turkish Airlines seems to rely on visiting friends and
family demand to Somalia. While such traffic often results in low yields from
typically minimal premium demand, Somalia's lack of alternative options likely
helps with pricing.
In 2017, a Turkish Airlines country manager said that
"Somalia is one of our most profitable destinations worldwide." While
old and unverifiable, it wouldn't be too surprising.
The fact that it has been de-linked from Djibouti suggests
underlying performance is strong, especially as it remains 1x daily – the same
frequency it had when it was a one-stop.
It now has 9,060 roundtrip seats available for sale, only
slightly fewer than when it operated via Djibouti. But all 9,000 are now
to/from Somalia only. And with a 1x daily service, albeit using the smaller MAX
8, it may pressure seat load factors and yields.