Turkish Airlines as early as next May could be whisking Atlantans to Istanbul and beyond on a daily nonstop flight that has long been anticipated but was previously considered years away.
In its news section, the airline’s website today posted a new schedule for the flight, which says it would start May 16, 2016, and run through Oct. 28. Turkish Airlines couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.
If it turns out to take off, the flight wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil said last September that he was awaiting approval from his board of directors to launch an Atlanta route. In November, an airline spokesman told Global Atlanta the route would likely begin in 2017 or 2018.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spokesman Reese McCranie confirmed Monday that airport leaders have been in “active discussions” with the airline about an Atlanta route.
“As you are aware, Turkish has expressed interest in launching passenger service before the summer season of 2016. The airport is unable to confirm the details of the service at this point, however, we are delighted about the possibility of welcoming Turkish Airlines to Atlanta,”Mr. McCranie told Global Atlanta.
Reached at his office in Miami, Turkish Consul General Özgür Kıvanç Altan also said he would leave it to Turkish Airlines to officially confirm the flight, but he noted a palpable excitement about air links between his home country and the region he has served for more than a year.
Miami will get its first nonstop Turkish Airlines link to Istanbul this October, a move presaged by the CEO Mr. Kotil’s promises to expand the breadth and depth of the airline’s U.S. network.
Last fall, during his first visit to Atlanta, Mr. Altan could hardly greet people before being bombarded with requests for a nonstop flight from here, he told Global Atlanta.
Atlanta’s Turkish community is estimated at between 5,000-7,000 people, and “that number always goes up and up,” says Mazlum Kosma, a dual citizen of Turkish descent and a longtime Atlantan who formerly led the American Turkish American Cultural Association of Georgia.
Many Turkish students pick Georgia Tech for graduate degrees, and the university’s cachet in the country is growing: This year more than 30 Turks were admitted into the freshman class alone, Mr. Kosma said.
Not to mention that other schools like Georgia State University have launched mutliple exchange programs with Turkey. A nonstop flight would make it easier for Turkish students, as well as businesspeople, young families and older residents to visit home.
Mr. Kosma cited his 85-year-old mother, who splits time between Turkey and Atlanta and would find her journey much easier without the requisite transfer in Chicago or New York. In that way, he believes the flight would sell itself.
“If there is a direct flight, I don’t need to look for anything else. One phone call, one Internet reservation, done,” he told Global Atlanta.
Mr. Altan, the consul general, added that the possibilities go beyond the point-to-point connections. Turkish Airlines flies to more than 200 destinations in 108 countries, making it the airline with the most countries served.
“It will be a multiplier for business contacts between that part of the U.S. and Turkey, and it’s not only even Turks that are flying with Turkish Airlines,” he said. “Daily Houston flights [begun in 2013] are carrying only close to 10 percent Turks because Istanbul is like a United Nations from an aviation point of view.”
As Atlanta deepens its ties with Africa, Istanbul could become an important transfer point: The airline serves more than 40 destinations on the continent, rivaling Air France. Stopovers are becoming more common, Mr. Altan said.
“You happen to spend a great time in Istanbul for a few days, and then you continue with your flights,” he said.
That’s a similar argument made by Dubai leaders as they sought to woo investment from Atlanta during a recent trade mission, and Qatar Airways also said when announcing new service to Atlanta in July 2016 that it would connect passengers to Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
The latter is a key market from Atlanta, which has more than 80,000 people of Indian descent, and the numbers are even larger throughout the Southeast. The Indian community in the region has been lobbying for more Middle Eastern carriers that can offer one-stop service to South Asia, as Delta Air Lines Inc. has no nonstop links with the region from the U.S.