10 Years On: Inside Turkish Airlines’ Somalia Service

Simple Flying
By James Pearson

Almost a decade has passed since Turkish Airlines inaugurated Mogadishu, Somalia. At the time, people were skeptical about it, suggesting that it didn’t make sense, primarily because of the country’s instability. However, Somalia encapsulates the carrier’s ambition for Africa, its willingness to try new routes, and its desire for significant network breadth.

Turkish Airlines to Somalia

Turkish Airlines started Istanbul to Mogadishu on March 6th, 2012, despite Somalia’s unrest that typically deterred airlines. The route materialized seven months after the Turkish Prime Minister visited the country and was the first long-haul service in nearly 30 years.

Initially operating twice-weekly via Khartoum, it shifted to routing via Djibouti six months later. This cut 162 (261km) miles each way, reducing fuel consumption, block time, and appearing higher up in booking engines by trip duration. Except for a brief spell in 2021, Mogadishu has always been a one-stop service, which will probably always continue.

It’ll probably always be a one-stop

One-stops are crucial to the airline’s Africa operation, and Somalia is no exception. Not only does Turkish Airlines benefit from good traffic between Djibouti and Somalia (it has fifth freedom traffic rights), but it means it can operate once daily. More practically, the stop is also for crew reasons. They stay in Djibouti and make a day trip to Somalia.

When writing, Istanbul-Mogadishu is served once daily, with the schedule below (all times are local). It uses the 151-seat B737-900ER, an important aircraft to Africa. It has previously used the B737-800, A320, B737 MAX 8, and – on a small number of services – the A330-200, A330-300, and A340-300.

TK686: Istanbul-Djibouti: 01:45-06:50
TK686: Djibouti-Mogadishu: 07:45-09:40
TK687: Mogadishu-Djibouti: 10:40-12:40
TK687: Djibouti-Mogadishu: 13:40-19:20

Where do people actually go?

In 2019, the last normal year, booking data shows that approximately 49,000 people transited Istanbul from Mogadishu. The UK, Sweden, wider Turkey, Finland, and Norway saw the most passengers, mainly because of Somali diaspora.

Over 250,000 Somalis (and those of Somali heritage) reside in the UK and Nordics, while Turkey is of growing importance. Interestingly, Turkish Airlines carried relatively flew people to/from the US or Canada. At airport-level, the leading origins and destinations were as follows.

Mogadishu to/from London Heathrow
Stockholm Arlanda
London Gatwick

While such traffic often results in relatively low yields, the lack of alternative options likely helps with pricing. In 2017, a Turkish Airlines country manager stated that “Somalia is one of our most profitable destinations worldwide.” Although old and unverifiable, it wouldn’t be too surprising.