Turkish Airlines said it intends to purchase 40 of Boeing's 787-9 Dreamliners, a long-awaited deal that signals the carrier’s rebound following a terrorist attack on its Istanbul hub last year.
When finalised, the order would be valued at almost $11 billion before the customary discounts for large aircraft purchases. The pact, unveiled during a brief signing ceremony in New York on Thursday, came after years of market studies and negotiations for wide-body planes as the airline plotted its expansion.
Boeing’s carbon-composite Dreamliners will help upgrade Turkish’s fleet of long-range aircraft as it competes with other Middle Eastern airlines amid slowing growth in the region. The carrier’s expansion would hasten President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s goal of making Istanbul one of the world’s premier air travel hubs. The airline already has 75 Boeing 737 Max jets on order, according to the planemaker’s website.
Turkish plans to shift operations from Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport to a new hub, which is due to open at the end of the year. “It’s very exciting for them and it’ll open so many new gateways,” said Marty Bentrott, Boeing vice president of sales for the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia. “These aeroplanes are part of that growth plan.”
The deal underscores continued interest from the airline industry in midsized twin-aisle aircraft even as sales taper for planes that seat more than 400 travellers. Boeing has landed 82 firm orders for the 787 so far this year. The total could swell if the Chicago-based manufacturer formalises additional commitments such as the one for eight 787 Dreamliners announced by Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak during a White House visit this month.
Citing the sales pickup, Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg recently announced plans to speed production of its Dreamliner by 17 per cent in 2019. The 14-jet monthly pace would be a record for complex twin-aisle aircraft like the 787, which is Boeing’s most advanced.
It would also give Boeing a competitive advantage over rival Airbus SE by opening more delivery slots for the sold-out jet. The European plane maker has been gradually stepping up output of its A350 after early deliveries were disrupted by late cabin equipment.
Turkish, officially known as Turk Hava Yollari AO, has sought to take advantage of Istanbul’s historic role as a global crossroads linking east and west. Persian Gulf carriers such as Dubai’s Emirates Airline and Doha-based Qatar Airways have pointed the way with international networks built on connections through their home hubs.
The Istanbul-based carrier for a time mulled ordering Airbus SE’s A380, the superjumbo favoured by Emirates, or Boeing’s humpbacked 747-8 jumbo. Those four-engine planes have fallen out of favour as airlines bypass large hubs to connect smaller cities directly.
With the Dreamliner agreement, Boeing also pledged to work with the Turkish government to accelerate the growth of the country’s aerospace industry. The initiative outlines a strategic framework aimed at bolstering research, engineering and skills development for Turkish carriers, service companies and suppliers.