By James Pearson
Somalia is now connected non-stop to Europe. On March 28th, Turkish Airlines ended its Istanbul-Djibouti-Mogadishu service, replacing it with two non-stop routes: Istanbul-Mogadishu and Istanbul-Djibouti. This arrangement will seemingly continue indefinitely, and it means Somalia is now connected non-stop to Europe on a regular basis.
Istanbul Airport is on the European side Bosporus. It was the world’s second-busiest airport for international passengers last year, behind only Dubai International.
There have been non-stops before. Due to coronavirus, the Turkish flag carrier operated Istanbul-Mogadishu non-stop between July and September 2021, but this was a temporary setup. Non-stops also existed briefly in 2012, when Turkish Airlines began Somalia service, including on the first flight – which used the A340-300. Significantly, it is now is a normal, regular, continual non-stop operation.
Istanbul to Somalia
Turkish Airlines started Istanbul (then Atatürk) to Mogadishu on March 6th, 2012, despite Somalia’s unrest that ordinarily deterred airlines. The route materialized seven months after the Turkish Prime Minister visited the country and was Somalia’s first long-haul service in nearly 30 years.
Initially operating twice-weekly via Khartoum, it shifted to routing via Djibouti in August 2012. It continued via Djibouti until March 26th, 2022. Stopping in Djibouti instead cut 162 (261km) miles off the journey each way, reducing fuel consumption, and block time, meaning it appeared higher up in booking engines by trip duration. It also had fifth-freedom traffic rights between the two cities.
A 50-minute turn in Mogadishu
Now that it is non-stop, Turkish Airlines’ offering is even faster, quicker, and more competitive. It has shaved two hours off Mogadishu-Istanbul, obviously also reducing total travel time for those connecting across Europe and beyond.
It uses 151-seat B737 MAX 8s, replacing the 169-seat B737 MAX 9s that most recently were used when it was one-stop. The new schedule is as follows, with all times local.
Istanbul to Mogadishu: TK646, 02:55-09:50 (6h 55m block time)
Mogadishu to Istanbul: TK647, 10:40-17:20 (6h 40m)
Where do people go?
Booking data shows that approximately 49,000 people transited Istanbul from Mogadishu in 2019. 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 a growing number live in Turkey.
While the US and Canada have big Somali populations, Turkish Airlines carried relatively few people to/from these countries. That is mainly because of the schedule, which wasn’t (and isn’t) set up for them. Indeed, at an airport level, the Turkish flag carrier’s leading markets to/from Mogadishu were as follows:
One of its most profitable routes?
Turkish Airlines seems to rely on visiting friends and family demand to Somalia. While such traffic often results in low yields from typically minimal premium demand, Somalia’s lack of alternative options likely helps with pricing.
In 2017, a Turkish Airlines country manager said that “Somalia is one of our most profitable destinations worldwide.” While old and unverifiable, it wouldn’t be too surprising.
It now has 9,060 roundtrip seats available for sale, only slightly fewer than when it operated via Djibouti. But all 9,000 are now to/from Somalia only. And with a 1x daily service, albeit using the smaller MAX 8, it may pressure seat load factors and yields.