How one airline’s blue-sky thinking has resulted in a clear strategy for sustainability

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Author: Prof. Dr. Ahmet Bolat, Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee, Turkish Airlines

June 28, 2022

Our journey began on May 20, 1933 with five aircraft and fewer than 30 employees. From these humble beginnings, Turkish Airlines has grown to become the carrier that flies to more countries around the world than any other. Our flexible and dynamic structure, experienced and devoted employees, unique airport hub located in Istanbul, modern fleet and network capability make us one of the strongest players in aviation industry.

Accurate capacity management
Sustainability is central to our strategy for growth and profitability as we aim to keep adding value for our stakeholders while enhancing our products and services. In the 10 years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic we saw growth two to three times higher than the global average in terms of passenger numbers, averaging at 11.5 percent per year. In the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic we set ourselves apart from the rest of the aviation industry in terms of traffic and financial results during this period, achieving revenue of $10.7bn in 2021 through a 48 percent increase in cargo income and a 69 percent increase in passenger income.

As we continue to grow with our progress keenly watched by the rest of the global aviation industry, we are determined to make sustainability a key element of our operations, led by both our core sustainability principles and the work of our Sustainability Committee. Established in 2021 this committee, made up of Turkish Airlines senior executives, determines, reviews and continuously improves our sustainability management strategy, sustainability policy, short, medium and long-term sustainability targets, and decides on improvement projects that will increase the sustainability performance of Turkish Airlines. Important issues are reported to senior management and top management by the Sustainability Committee, with a view to making important sustainability issues and fundamentals a natural part of our business and operations.

By making passenger aircraft suitable for cargo operations – a process we pioneered in the aviation industry and first implemented in 2020 – we’ve catered to the increasing demand for air cargo. By implementing efficient capacity management, we performed successfully throughout 2021. During the pandemic we played an active role transporting vaccines, medicine, medical supplies, humanitarian aid and food all over the globe. By the end of 2021 Turkish Cargo was responsible for one in 20 air cargo flights, putting us first among European network carriers and in the top five internationally.

On top of this, we became the first air cargo airline to concurrently achieve all three certifications (CEIV Pharma, CEIV Fresh, and CEIV Live Animals), under the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) CEIV (Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators) programme. Looking forwards, we aim to be one of the top three brands in the world in air cargo transportation by boosting the strong growth trend of Turkish Cargo through the investments we are making at Istanbul Airport.

When it comes to the other side of the business, recent restructuring means that we now also have access to the low-cost passenger market via our Anadolu Jet brand. Anadolu Jet boosts our competitiveness and strengthens the effectiveness of the overall Turkish Airlines brand by popularising air travel in this segment of the market. We already operate in 46 destinations worldwide with Anadolu Jet broadening our offer to customers in the regions in which it operates: Northern Cyprus, Europe and the Middle East.

Managing the crisis
The pandemic was a time of upheaval for the entire airline industry, but Turkish Airlines managed to limit its operational losses during this period thanks to a series of measures that cut costs while increasing efficiencies. By adding new destinations to our flight network and cancelling and postponing orders for new aircraft due to be delivered between 2021 and 2023, we saved $7bn. This strong financial management enabled us to achieve $959m net after-tax profit in 2021. Having Istanbul as a hub for our network was a major advantage during this period. Serving as a bridge between east and west, Istanbul is a gateway for up to 40 percent of narrow-body international air traffic. The flexibility it offered our flight network meant that we were able to use our capacity highly effectively.

With our wide network of 336 destinations in 128 countries on five continents we contribute to local socio-economic development in the regions where we operate. Twenty-five countries we fly to appear on the 2021 United Nations list of least developed nations – our engagement provides valuable employment and enables these countries to develop crucial economic and social relationships with the rest of the world.

Sustainable operations
We have one of the youngest fleets in the world, averaging out at just 8.7 years across our 376 aircraft. In 2021, we added 21 new generation aircraft to the fleet, aircraft which offer an average of 15 percent fuel savings compared to their more traditional equivalents.

We aim to further lessen our environmental impact by continuing to grow our new generation fleet in 2022. In addition to these environmentally friendly aircraft, our fuel saving policy is at the heart of our strategy to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Since 2008 we have commenced more than 100 operational optimisation projects to reduce our carbon footprint, and we are continuing to implement these projects today. These fuel efficiency projects saved 37,082 tonnes of fuel in 2021, equivalent to a reduction of 116,809 tonnes of greenhouse gases.
In 2021 the airline industry came together under the banner of industry group IATA, to adopt a global target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is responsible for up to 80 percent fewer GHG emissions compared to traditional kerosene fuel, will be one of the key tools for meeting that ambitious goal.

Aware of the important role that SAF will play, we launched our first SAF flight on our Istanbul to Paris route on February 2, 2022. Since then we have rolled it out to destinations including Oslo, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Paris, London and Stockholm. More destinations and more frequent use of SAF is planned in the future. Though using SAF is a milestone for us, our aim is to produce this fuel rather than just use it.

To this end, we’ve been working with scientists at Bog˘aziçi University in Istanbul on the Microalgae based Sustainable Bio-Jet Fuel Project (MICRO-JET), which is supported by TUBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey). In addition to our current usage of SAF, we aim to use synthetic bio-kerosene, which is produced from microalgae, instead of traditional jet fuel, on our flights as soon as possible after the completion of engine tests by Turkish Technic in 2022. When we achieve this goal, Turkish Airlines will be one of just a handful of companies that can produce and use the cleanest type of biofuel accepted by IATA.

Offsetting emissions
Another area of research regarding emission reductions is the Voluntary Carbon Offsetting Project. Slated for 2022, this project will offer our passengers the option of offsetting emissions from their flights. As part of the project, we will also be offsetting the emissions of Turkish Airlines employees, including those who fly as part of their roles.

In addition to our current usage of SAF, We aim to use synthetic bio-kerosene, which is produced from microalgae, instead of traditional jet fuel, on
our flights as soon as possible

In line with our principle of ‘continuous improvement,’ we have recently reinforced our commitment to ISO 14001, the global standard for Environmental Management Systems. We have been implementing the standard since 2013, and we strengthen this with our participation in the IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA) programme, which helps airlines independently assess and improve their environmental impact. We were the first airline to directly receive a Stage 2 certificate, which represents the highest level of IEnvA compliance and requires an airline to demonstrate ongoing environmental performance improvement.

As a result of the passenger feedback gathered and evaluated by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) – a body regarded as one of the most reliable aviation organisations in the world – we were recognised as a ‘Five Star Global Airline.’ In addition, following a series of independent audits carried out by APEX into health and safety, service quality and sustainability, we also received the ‘World Class Award,’ which was presented for the first time in 2022. Turkish Airlines was one of only seven carriers deemed worthy of this prestigious accolade.

Going forwards, we aim to maintain and further develop our sustainability efforts in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Taking into account the expectations of our stakeholders and related parties, we will be integrating sustainability into every field in which we operate, working day in, day out in line with the vision, mission and general strategy of our airline.

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