Turkish Airlines today launched service between Istanbul and Atlanta. The inaugural flight arrived this evening to a water cannon salute. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was joined by Turkish Airlines CMO Ahmet Olmustur and Turkish ambassador Serdar Kılıç for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The route will be operated by a Boeing 777-300ER daily until October 30 when frequency will shrink to 5x weekly for the winter season. The current flight schedule is:
Depart: Istanbul - 13:30
Arrive: Atlanta - 19:30
Depart: Atlanta - 22:00
Arrive: Istanbul - 22:00
Turkish becomes the eighth international carrier serving Atlanta joining Air Canada Express, Air France, British Airways, KLM, Korean Airlines, Lufthansa, and Virgin Atlantic. (Qatar Airways will begin service to Doha in June.)
While an agreement has not been signed, Turkish is negotiating with airport officials about joining Atlanta's Air Service Incentive Program (ASIP):
As an Atlantan, I am excited that my city has gained another high-profile international carrier and route. I do find it curious that Turkish opted to begin serving Atlanta. As a member of the Star Alliance, connections in Atlanta for inbound passengers would be concentrated to flights departing Atlanta for United hubs Chicago-O'Hare, Washington-Dulles, Denver, Houston-Intercontinental, Newark and San Francisco. While there are some attractive destinations in that list for inbound international travelers, four are already served by Turkish. That suggests to me two strategic expectations for this service.
Perhaps, the airline expects to have a signficant number of Atlanta origination and destination passengers. It is conceivable that as host of the 1996 Summer Olympics, the city is now on the radar for international leisure travelers. More likely, Turkish expects to capture enough of the airport's transatlantic traffic to Europe to justify the route. Atlanta has numerous major corporations headquartered here with significant number of business travelers. Istanbul is located conveniently for connections not only to Europe, but also Africa, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Though Delta serves a broader variety of European destinations directly or via connections through New York-JFK, passengers would have to connect to a partner airline to go to second- and third- tier destinations in Europe as well as any locations in Africa or Asia. This reductions the competitive advantage for Delta with many passengers. The geographic centrality could be a strong selling points for such passengers who are not completely beholden to a SkyTeam carrier due to frequent flyer mile loyalties. Turkish Airlines is going into the backyard an 800-pound gorilla competitors in hometown Delta. I am sure they have a plan on how to compete in the market.
Regardless of the strategy, this is exciting news for Atlanta as a business city, leisure travel destination and simply aviation geeks in the area. Welcome to Atlanta, Turkish!