Flights from Birmingham to Turkey – one of the world’s most rapidly-growing economies – have increased amid strong demand from business and leisure travellers.
Turkish Airlines has increased the number of flights to 10 a week – double the number two years ago – and will transport more than 150,000 people from Birmingham to Istanbul this year, despite first launching at the airport at the start of the recession.
Istanbul is tipped to become one of the world’s major financial centres, with Olympic bids and £12 billion infrastructure plans in the offing, and the service has proven popular with business people travelling there, and to the Middle East and South Asia.
Selim Ozturk, general manager for Turkish Airlines in Birmingham, estimated about half of passengers were flying for business but said the city’s multicultural population had also helped.
“We started a few years back with five a week and last year it increased to seven and now we are saying 10,” he said.
“There is big demand in the Midlands. We have confidence in the Midlands and hopefully we will be making it double-daily in the future.
“Birmingham has a big ethnic population. There are a lot of Pakistani people and people from India, some other Middle East countries, as well as some from Africa – Somalia and Kenya. Geographically, a location like Istanbul allows you to reach the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa easily within four hours.”
Plans are afoot to make Istanbul the world’s largest airport, capable of holding 150 million passengers at a time.
The country is keen to build on strong growth. Its economy grew by more than eight per cent in both 2010 and 2011, although that fell to 2.2 per cent last year.
The launch of the new flight programme was accompanied by a visit from the airline’s 200th aircraft and a performance from The Orchestra of the Swan.
Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe said the airline’s success in the city was a reward for investing ahead of the recession.
He said: “It was a tough time when they started because nobody knew what the recession was going to do.
“We are doing a lot of trade with Turkey. It is outside the European Union but conforms to EU standards and they are investing a lot in infrastructure. Istanbul is going to be a major world city. They are determined to make it work.”
Mr Kehoe said Turkish Airlines would take between 150,000 to 200,000 passengers from the city this year – still well short of the 580,000 transported by Lufthansa, but major progress at a time when many other airports were seeing a decline.
And he said it was important for leisure and business travellers in the West Midlands to back the airport by flying from Birmingham wherever possible.
Turkish Airlines travels to 98 countries and the route from Birmingham to Istanbul puts 221 worldwide destinations in reach.
Mr Kehoe added: “Birmingham can’t sustain, at this stage, connections to all these major growth markets but by connecting through city hubs like Istanbul, Dubai, Munich and Paris we get that global connection, as well as west-bound through the States. It also allows us to route-prove – to show the value of flying from Birmingham to airlines.”
Figures for trade between the West Midlands and Turkey are not available, but the latest trade data from HMRC showed the region exported £1.3 billion-worth of goods to North Africa and the Middle East last year, an increase of more than 52 per cent on four years before.
Paul Noon, regional director for Government exporting body UK Trade & Investment West Midlands, said: “An increased number of flights to Turkey from Birmingham is great news. Turkey is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and more than 2,000 British companies are already doing business, to the value of £9 billion.
“With its large, young and well-educated population of nearly 77 million, Turkey presents significant business opportunities in education, creative industries, advanced engineering, financial, business services, ICT, energy, sport and leisure, construction, rail and ports. While the size of the domestic market offers immense opportunities, Turkey is also a springboard for companies seeking to enter central Asian and Middle Eastern markets.”