ATW Editor's Blog

FAA ban on Turkish flights, although lifted, was puzzling

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I’m struggling to understand why the US initially imposed such a wide and lengthy ban on commercial flights to and from Turkey following Friday night’s failed coup.

The FAA notice to airmen - or notam - issued by FAA July 16 was made effective through Aug. 31. In reality, this was a ban on Turkish Airlines because no US airline operates scheduled services to Turkey. During the afternoon of Monday, July 18, FAA announced the notam was being lifted. It appears the US government wanted assurances that Turkey’s security screening processes remained compliant and on getting that, lifted the ban.

When the mutiny began, and military troops moved to take over Istanbul and Ankara, the situation was certainly dangerous and chaotic, and it was difficult to predict the outcome. In such circumstances, there were uncertainties about airport and airline security that made the FAA notam understandable.

But the coup was quickly quelled. So the US’ sweeping response is puzzling. This was not a terrorist attack and it was dealt with swiftly by the elected government of a country that is a NATO member and a US military ally. Airlines from other countries, including British Airways and Singapore Airlines, temporarily suspended flights to Turkey, but no other country issued a mandatory, blanket prohibition on commercial flights, let alone one that initially was set to stretch out six weeks.

Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star global alliance with a fleet of 300 aircraft. Its main hub, Istanbul Ataturk, is a huge global hub-and-spoke operation that connects passengers and cargo from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. In the current ATW World Airline Report, Turkish ranks 13th in size by number of passengers carried, 15th in fleet size, 18th by operating revenue and 10th by net profit.

By the time the FAA notam was lifted, Turkish had been forced to cancel all its scheduled flights to the US for three straight days and there will likely be a related effect on customer confidence and bookings.

Whatever the rationale behind the US’ flight ban, it’s a stark reminder that airlines, however successful and well managed, are uniquely susceptible to outside forces, including acts of terrorism, economic downturns, wars and, yes, attempted coups. As incoming IATA CEO & DG Alexandre de Juniac said in June, it’s tough business running an airline.

karen.walker@penton.com

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