SunExpress planning to MAX-imise its network in more ways than one

Currently in serious expansion mode, SunExpress is a carrier that is on the move. To find out more about the operator’s recent and upcoming developments, Jonathan Ford spoke with Wilken Bellmann, Head of Network Planning and Scheduling, to discuss new routes, new aircraft and new focuses.

Operating under a German and Turkish Air Operators Certificate (AOC), SunExpress is a carrier which is making big strides in the European aviation market.

The carrier was founded in October 1989 as a subsidiary of two leading European carriers, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa. Today, SunExpress carries around nine million passengers annually. With its 28 years of experience and thus the long-term commitment in the traffic between its home markets of Turkey and Germany, the airline has acquired the reputation of being the holiday specialist, even beyond Turkey.

The airline concentrates on three areas of business: international tourism, ethnic travel (including domestic Turkish flights to the most important cities within the Asian part of the country) and wet-lease. Besides scheduled flights, SunExpress relies on charter business and a close cooperation with renowned and individual smaller tour operators. Serving more than 60 cities in 20 countries with at least 1,200 weekly flights during peak summer, the destination portfolio of SunExpress offers a wide variety of non-stop frequencies between Europe and Turkey, Germany and holiday destinations within the Red Sea region, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and the Canary Islands.

SunExpress launched four new routes from Ankara, Antalya, Bodrum and Gaziantep to London Luton in June. SunExpress’ Head of Network Planning and Scheduling Wilken Bellmann and London Luton CCO Jonathan Pollard cut the ribbon which increased the airline’s summer flights at the UK airport from 80 last summer to 300 this summer season.

2018 and 2019 expansion

This year, SunExpress’ annual scheduled seat capacity rose by 53% versus the previous year, according to schedule data from OAG, with the airline having added many new routes this year. “My team has done a great job in further shaping the SunExpress network for both our German and Turkish AOCs this year, with continued focus on major airports across Europe combined with frequency increases on our leisure and VFR-driven routes to Turkey and other destinations in the Mediterranean,” says Wilken Bellmann, Head of Network Planning and Scheduling, SunExpress. “This summer we added almost 30 new O&Ds to our network, and for next summer we are eyeing a similar number of new routes.”

The airline will also see the arrival of its first 737 MAX 8s next year. “Deliveries will start in Q2 2019 and we will introduce the 737 MAX 8 to both our Turkish and German AOCs. We are currently evaluating some MAX-specific routes, but cannot comment until we have finalised our evaluation and have published the programme accordingly.”

The Antalya Shuttle concept

The Antalya Shuttle concept sees SunExpress fly five daily flights from the Turkish destination to Düsseldorf in the peak season. The airline also flies four times daily from Antalya to Cologne Bonn.

The Antalya Shuttle concept by SunExpress is about offering a high frequency of services from key airports to the Turkish city during summer, with the shuttle programme having been heavily expanded in 2018. “The Antalya Shuttle concept is basically a high number of frequencies from our key airports during the summer season, including five flights per day from Düsseldorf to Antalya,” Bellmann explains. “We have similar setups in place on the Cologne Bonn to Antalya market, which operates four times per day, and on Hannover, Frankfurt and Vienna to Antalya. We also offer a similar concept at Izmir to Düsseldorf and Frankfurt, with both seeing up to three daily flights.”

Germany is currently the second-largest visitor market to Turkey, with Germans accounting for 11.21% of all foreign arrivals to Turkey during the first nine months of 2018.

Turkish comeback

Turkey has seen a resurgence in tourism in recent times, with this being a strength that SunExpress has capitalised on. “Turkish tourism in general has seen a great comeback with strong demand from all source markets to all of our destinations,” Bellmann comments.

According to statistics from the Republic of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 32.41 million foreign visitors were recorded in 2017, with this total up 27.8% versus the levels experienced in 2016. This surge has continued into 2018, with data from the same source indicating that during the first nine months of 2018, just under 31.82 million foreign arrivals have been registered at Turkish customs, a 22.1% rise over the same nine-month period of 2017. Of these visitors, 75% arrived in Turkey via air. When asked about which markets have been performing well for SunExpress this year, Bellmann states: “It’s impossible to pick out a single route as a star performer, as the airline has been very happy with the development of the entire network from and to Turkey.”

SunExpress factbox

Current fleet: 64 737-800s

2017: 8.8 million passengers

Average load factor in 2017: 84%

Number of flights operated: 57,675

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