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23 June 2020

Around European Aviation in 15 stops/interviews – Turkey, Central Asia and Azerbaijan in times of Covid-19

Funda Calisir joined IATA in 1999 as Development Support Assistant for the Y2K project, after working as a rocket research engineer at Tubitak, Turkey’s Scientific and Technological Research Council.

She currently sits in Istanbul where she covers Turkey, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan and Turkmenistan. She also manages the IATA Nur-Sultan office. IATA member airlines in this cluster include Turkish Airlines, Air Astana, Pegasus Airlines, Onur Air, Uzbekistan Airways, Azerbaijan Airlines, SCAT Airlines, Somon Air, SunExpress, MNG, Freebird, Corendon Airlines, Qazaq Air, and Silk Way West Airlines.  

Funda in her own words:

“Having graduated from Middle East Technical University as an Aeronautical Engineer, I actually dedicated a very short period of time to engineering before I joined IATA, where, over 20 years later, I am still very much enjoying civil aviation management.

I am married, have a 23-year-old son, and am an excessive Turkish tea and coffee drinker, though I don’t believe there is a causal connection here! In my off time, I enjoy socializing with friends, travelling and meeting with people of different cultures: Far East countries are my favorite. I also have a taste for reading, mostly history, culture, and politics. During this Covid-19 crisis, I took advantage of the lockdown to enjoy my garden and improve my cooking skills to balance a really challenging work agenda. Even if I love Turkish food, I cannot wait to go out and taste different types of cuisines again.”

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Funda, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, particularly in such challenging times.

  • How is the situation for air transport in your countries and how badly has aviation been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis?

Similarly to other European Markets, all the member airlines in my cluster were heavily impacted. Aviation relies on open borders, therefore the necessary Covid-19 measures limiting mobility taken by governments around the globe almost completely shut down operations. Traffic numbers went down between 90 and 100%! Cargo and repatriation flights made up almost the only air transport activity. Looking up and seeing empty skies feels extremely bizarre, as over the years planes have become an fundamental part of the landscape. As the health situation improves, we hope to witness a correlation with air transport. 

  • How are the governments in your cluster responding to our sector’s crisis?

The crisis is unprecedented and has pushed us to increase our advocacy efforts. As a whole, governments in my cluster have been very cooperative, but due to the severity of the situation, more has to be done in order to save the industry, now helping it to restart, before we can see it grow again. Fortunately, we have very good and close relations with all the Civil Aviation Authorities, which is essential, as the industry, more than ever before, needs to collaborate in the face of adversity. All in all, together with our member airlines, we have managed to secure some very good results in terms of relief and restart measures. But the work continues, and the road to recovery will be long.

  • Refunds is a huge issue for our industry due to the financial liability. What is the situation in your markets?

Following heavy advocacy efforts hand in hand with our member airlines, Turkey, the largest aviation market of my cluster, through the General Directorate of Civil Aviation, issued an amendment March 25 for the “Air Passengers Rights Regulation”. This clearly addressed what we were advocating for:  starting February 5, 2020, for all Covid-19 related flight cancellations, the airline scheduled to perform the flight is exempted from the provisions in articles 8 (compensation), 9 (refund and route changes) and 10 (refreshment, accommodation, transportation, free calls, etc.), and this until two months after flight restrictions are lifted.

Passengers whose flight was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak are entitled to change the flight to a different date or simply exchange it for an open ticket. In addition, passengers can apply for a refund with the airline for the open and unused ticket two months after flight restrictions are lifted.

In the other countries, we are in constant contact with Ministries and other stakeholders for additional flexibility and relief related to this refund issue. In some countries like Kyrgyzstan, the state does not prohibit the use of vouchers nor has it pushed airlines to reimburse passengers only in cash.

  • What is the situation in terms of restart in the different countries that make up your cluster?

Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan resumed domestic operations, as did Turkey earlier this month. For a country like Turkey that relies heavily on tourism, aviation plays a truly central role in providing direct and indirect jobs, and its effects on the GDP and economy are second to none. As the summer season approaches, the country urgently needs to restore connectivity, particularly with those countries that contribute the most to tourism.  International operations in the first two countries are set to resume this month, and we hope all the countries in my cluster will reopen connections at the latest by the end of July. We are regularly in contact with governments and authorities to share IATA’s approach and position for restart measures, pushing for the implementation of harmonized measures such as the ICAO Covid-19 Guidelines and EASA/ECDC guidelines. Our interlocutors very much appreciate IATA’s expertise and international input, as well as our support.

  • How can Turkey, Azerbaijan and Central Asia develop their air transport industries following this crisis?

First and foremost, it is absolutely key that the virus is contained, and that we halt its spread. From a purely aviation standpoint, at this moment in time, all efforts must be put on ensuring airlines and the entire air transport community are able to survive this crisis, which unfortunately will be included in future History books and remembered for many generations to come. As our Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac well put it: “financial and operational flexibility equals survival”, and we will need governments to step up and ensure the ecosystem is preserved, whether it be via state aid, loans, guarantees, relaxing constraints and lowering taxation levels. Though the different countries that make up my cluster have different priorities and development levels, there is one common denominator for them all: safety. I cannot stress enough that efforts be put on our industry’s number one priority, which is simultaneously the main pillar sustaining it. After this Covid-19 crisis, with revenues having dropped to historically low levels, passenger confidence will represent one of the most important stimulating factors for demand, and this can only be achieved with strong safety numbers. And for aviation to continue to deliver its many benefits such as jobs, prosperity and connectivity, markets in my cluster will need to continue investing in infrastructure, both ground and air.

 

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