The red flag with its white crescent is ever-present across Istanbul, from the moment you step off the plane. Huge flags dot the landscape, flying in the strong breeze, underscoring the pride of the people. The Muezzin can be heard five times a day, whilst music and food in all its forms are in abundance: faith, creativity, and hospitality. Three values that pervade the Turkish approach to life, business, and survival.
The third day of the World Cargo Symposium in Istanbul was dedicated to a “Focus on Türkiye”. Moderated by Lufthansa Cargo’s Hasan Hatipoglu, General Manager Türkiye, Moldova & Romania, the
key points were the move to the new airport, the recent crises, and the incredible collaboration in a time of need. “The air cargo industry faces many challenges, and goes through ups and
downs,” he said, opening the session. At Istanbul’s old Atakurk airport, the cargo facilities had been largely limiting. “Prior to Bayram, we would see 7-8km truck queues at airport,
causing major challenges for on-time freighter departures. Import deliveries and customs took 4-6 days! Now, we have one of the most modern airports.” In terms of passenger numbers, the new
Istanbul Airport is ranked 6th or 7th worldwide, and it is in the top 20 cargo airports, he explained.
Solidarity is the silver lining
At the forefront of the morning’s presentations were the country’s recent earthquakes. Over 50,000 lives were lost, more than 100,000 people heavily injured, and millions displaced. Hasan Hatipoglu led into the topic with a crisis video collage of local musicians, a reporter, and a Turkish-Dutch singer who raised €89 million in aid through a concert she gave having lost 11 of her own family members in Hatay – the hardest hit by the disaster. A moment of silence was held for the victims.
This was followed by presentations showing the many air bridges being built in the hours following the earthquakes, and still continuing. “We are still transporting tents to combat homelessness,” said Dr Murat Yalcin Kirca, VP Turkish Cargo. Whether it was Lufthansa Cargo and SunExpress working with the Help Alliance, or Turkish Cargo, Celebi, Genel Transport, Airlink, or any of the multitude of companies and authorities involved in immediate relief transports, the herculean effort showed the importance of air cargo as the fastest solution in times of need. A demonstration of positive impact that Christopher Licht, Managing Director, Celebi Cargo, urged was one to show young people increasingly looking for jobs with meaning. Air cargo saves lives and brings relief to those in need.
A strong commitment to disaster logistics
Turgut Erkeskin, President & CEO of Genel Transport, commented: “Living in a world where crisis and disruption has become the new normal, has pushed us to explore new paths, corridors and transport methods that we had never imagined before, such as preighters.” There were many key learnings, such as ensuring the flexible use of all transportation modes and routes. Pointing out that a large earthquake is expected in Istanbul at some point, “not soon, but we need to be prepared,” he emphasized the need for knowledge transfer and revealed that the Turkish Logistics Association and other NGOs are taking proactive steps to develop a master plan for the future. A Disaster Logistics Board consisting of 18 NGOs has been established to ensure that aid is delivered in the most efficient and effective way possible. “We have a strong commitment to disaster logistics,” he concluded, stating that if there is a silver lining to this disaster, then it is the solidarity shown.
Helping hands from across the world
Christopher Licht put the earthquake into perspective: “An area the size of Germany was affected. More than 140,000 people from 94 different countries came to help.” He illustrated how Celebi relief operations had been organized from Frankfurt to Turkey and outlined the many challenges in the process and prioritization, as well as the various relief goods required: “We sent thousands and thousands of generators – so many that we stopped counting,” he said, illustrating his words with an image of pallet upon pallet of generators. Even maintenance hangars had been used to accommodate relief goods storage. The manual identification and sorting of the shipments took hours, but many came to help from extra hands to local restaurants sending food for the cargo staff.
Dr Murat Yalcin Kirca spoke of similar conditions. Coming out of a pandemic where the Turkish Cargo was quick to adopt preighters, never stopped flying freight, did not lay off a single person during that time, transported more than 100,000 tons of medical shipments and over 340 million doses of vaccines from NOV20 to destinations across the globe, the airline immediately held a crisis meeting within hours of the news of the earthquake. With a focus on cancelling certain commercial flights and arranging relief transports to alternative airports, “prioritization of shipments was most important – everyone wanted to help, but not everything can be sent at once, so we worked with the Red Crescent – first lifesaving goods and food, then clothing and other materials.” Overall, Türkiye had seen 549 cargo flights arrive with 20,061 tons of disaster relief supplies delivered to the region.
Turkish Cargo has huge plans
Dr Murat Yalcin Kirca also took the audience through Turkish Cargo’s rapid rise in the air cargo market. Though the first cargo shipment was carried in 1936, three years after the airline’s beginnings, it was not until 2000 that serious investment were made in its cargo operations. The first A310F went operation in 2004. 2017 saw the first Boeing 777F, and pretty soon the airline achieved its goal of being one of the top 5 airline operators. “We accomplished our goal of Top 5 earlier than expected. Türkiye is located at the center of world air cargo traffic. We have 388 passenger aircraft, 23 freighters, and fly to 359 destinations in 132 countries.” The latter sets Turkish apart, since it serves the most countries in world. Now, with 100 cargo destinations in its network, it is 5th largest in market share: 5.2% compared to 1% in 2011- and it aims to grow larger still. He illustrated the complex transition between 2019 and 2022, from the old to new airport and the airline’s SMARTIST cargo facility: “We were operating three facilities at two airports and became a truck company for a certain period,” he described. More than 70,000 trucks (driving 4 million km) were used to shuttle shipments between the two airports during those three years.
No limits to Turkish Cargo’s growth
“Now we are enjoying the new facility,” he stated. What changed? A huge capacity increase in all storage/handling areas, including a temperature-controlled area. “We aim to transport more special cargo and want to be a market star with 32% special cargo in our portfolio, coming from 13% in 2013.” SMARTIST currently has a 2.2 million-tons handling capacity over an area of 280,000 m². Yet, that was just the end of Phase 1. “Phase 2 should take us to 4 million tons and an area of 340,000 m². We are the world’s 3rd largest and Europe’s largest air cargo terminal and are on our way to becoming a tech leader in industry,” he concluded. “There are no limits!”
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