By Jeff Peet, Managing Editor, ALA News 

  1. You were appointed in 2023 as Chairperson of the Board of Directors. What has been your greatest interest or concern and what do you think you have achieved so far in this new capacity?

Pegasus Airlines has a motto: “We did not start aviation in Türkiye, but we transformed it”.   Pegasus was the first to adopt the “low-cost airline” business model in the country – and now we have successfully developed it into our region and beyond, as at the heart of what we do, we believe that everyone has the right to fly. I consider myself fortunate to serve in such a pioneering company as Pegasus Airlines, first as CEO and now as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

I took over a very successful company from a very successful leader. My goal has always been to work with all our strength to move our company to even greater success and to create greater value for our guests.

One of the key things I am most proud of our achievements as the entire Pegasus family is how we have created a sustainability culture that permeates through everything we do at Pegasus, as part of our strategic plan.

As you may know, our 2050 Net Zero carbon emissions target is our longest-term corporate commitment. We’ve strengthened this with an interim emissions intensity target of reducing our emissions intensity measured as grCO2/RPK by 20% until 2030 compared to 2019 levels. To achieve these targets, we will keep investing in the newest generation fuel-efficient A321neo family aircraft, something we’ve been doing since 2016 – and we have already achieved 82% neo seat capacity across our fleet by the end of 2023. We will also continue to improve our efficiency projects and to increase the volume of Sustainable Aviation Fuels in our operations.

Of course, energy decarbonization is a big issue and people are easily frightened by the sheer size of the task at hand and the potential cost implications. We have to remain committed and work to get everyone, including the entire aviation energy value chain, on board, including the energy industry and infrastructure service providers such as airports. We are also working hard on doing this both at the national level and also on the international level by supporting industry goals through IATA and other bodies.

Emissions arising from jet fuel is a significant part of our environmental impact, but we don’t only focus on this,and also have many other initiatives to reduce our environmental impact. We aim to increase the use of renewable energy both in our buildings and in our vehicles especially those operating in the airport boundaries, and we are delighted that as of the end of 2023, 23% of our motorised ground equipment at Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen is now electric.

We also have measures to reduce waste and improve recycling in our cabin processes.

Beyond environment, as I mentioned, we also have ambitious targets on the social front. We would like to be a leading airline on gender diversity across the industry. We launched our DE&I program

“Harmony” last year, through which we are developing new targets beyond our IATA 25by2025 commitment and implementing them company-wide.

  1. Where do you think Pegasus’ main source of success lies?

Pegasus Airlines has pursued excellence since its launch as a low-cost carrier in 2005. The airline has been at the forefront of digital transformation within aviation, whilst supporting the industry’s sustainability goals and championing diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

As Pegasus Airlines, we attach great importance to effective cost management whilst ensuring we keep the same high level of service and quality offering as part of our business model – for example, by investing in technology and a new fleet – and we’re proud that we now have one of the youngest fleets among low-cost carriers globally: comprising 110 aircraft with an average age of 4.6 years as of 31 December 2023.

Therefore, with this approach, we were able to overcome the major adversities that all of us in the industry faced during the pandemic – and we’ll use that same approach to counter the current economic headwinds and continue to deliver great value travel for our guests.

Türkiye is also right at the crossroad between Europe, Asia, and Africa, granting Pegasus a unique advantage not as easily accessible to other airlines. This provides the best and most comfortable alternative for transit travellers who need to switch flights while travelling between the continents. Our operating region also has significant growth potential both in the total market and in the demand for low-cost carriers. Our fleet and network investments are dedicated to stimulating diversified growth across these regions while focusing on contribution to the network value. We currently have the lowest unit cost in the world, and as part of our 150 new-generation aircraft order from Airbus, we’re scheduled to add close to 70 additional aircraft into our fleet by the end of 2029. Receiving our 100th aircraft last September under our ongoing contract with Airbus also marked a milestone in the 100th year of the Turkish Republic

  1. Let me take you back in time. One could say that Pegasus’ conversion into an LCC came at the perfect time, thanks to some key factors. Some of them were the liberalization of the Turkish aviation market that saw the removal of domestic aviation tariffs. Then, the Turkish economy underwent significant growth with GDP expanding by at least 10% until not long ago. That means Pegasus was able to take advantage of the right set of circumstances. What opportunities do you see now for the company to continue growing?

Our primary objective is to maintain and further strengthen our position in the industry through our innovative, rational, principled, and responsible approach. We aim to assert ourselves as a leading low-cost airline not only in Türkiye but also in our region and globally.

To do so, some of our key objectives include ensuring operational excellence, expanding our international network, continuing our fleet expansion with new-generation aircraft, fostering gender equality and diversity, prioritising and investing in sustainability, and leveraging technology for improved customer experiences. We aim to be at the forefront of the industry in terms of efficiency, sustainability, and customer satisfaction.

Looking ahead, we are starting our preparations with similar initiatives. According to our order calendar, in 2024, we are expected to receive 15 more aircraft deliveries from Airbus, sustaining our capacity investments. Our 2024 budget also aligns with this trajectory. Additionally, efforts are underway to increase our capacity at our main hub, Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport, with the second runway in December which opened 2023. Our growth plans extend beyond Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen, with increased capacities planned for other cities, especially Antalya, in consideration of the seasonal demand increases.

In terms of our network, we currently fly to 135 destinations in 52 countries. There are more than 500 airports in 67 countries within our fleet’s range. With our current network, that means that currently we have close to more than 300 airports and 15 countries unexplored by us.

This indicates a significant potential for growth and within the next five years, our aim is to cultivate opportunities to further expand our flight network and increase frequencies in our key regions such as Europe, MENA and beyond.

  1. Pegasus has been a very forward-looking and customer-at-the-center oriented company and proof of that is having published a business strategy for anyone to see it and even question it. Do you feel you have lived up to that challenge?

Absolutely.  We firmly believe in everyone’s right to fly, and have made that our core mission, bringing low-cost travel to our country then developing and growing the model successfully across the region and beyond over the years.  Safety underpins everything we do, and beyond that, our focus is on keeping costs low with our industry-leading use of technology, which means we can achieve excellence in our operations and customer experience whilst keeping fares low for our guests.

Our recent growth in guests choosing to fly with Pegasus attests to this.  Entering 2023, effective planning and management of the post-pandemic surge in travel was crucial, and we have great confidence in this capability. In 2023, Pegasus recorded 22% capacity growth in Available Seat Kilometre (ASK) terms  and a 19% increase in the total number of guests carried compared to the same period the previous year to reach 32 million guests carried.  For international traffic, this rose to 24% growth year on year in 2023.

We are also proud to be recognised on the global stage for our achievements as a forward-looking company such as being awarded the 2023 CAPA EMEA Environmental Sustainability Airline/Airline Group of the Year Award. We embrace the challenge and are committed to do our part in our industry’s path to sustainable aviation as we continue to grow and serve our guests with the best service at the lowest fares possible.

  1. At a time when the industry voices were expressing quite catastrophic views about the future of aviation due to the huge hit it took from the Covid-19 pandemic, you had a more conciliatory tone by stressing that this was not just the case of aviation but of several other Did you believe that because you were expecting a fast recovery in the demand for travel?

Yes, certainly. Indeed, as a company, we anticipated a surge in demand after the easing of restrictions, and therefore we proactively prepared our operational network and colleagues across all business units, while also increasing our capacity to meet the rising demand.

Indeed, especially in sectors such as civil aviation, which are vulnerable to crisis and directly affected by many economic-political-geopolitical factors, we as leaders need to be prepared for all scenarios well-ahead of time.  It is necessary to have strong planning for the future, to work on alternative scenarios, to conduct healthy and regular risk management, to have the entire management team aligned on the strategy in order to see opportunities, and to review this strategy regularly, which is how we work at Pegasus.

Also, with our position in Türkiye as being one of the most popular destinations in the world for international visitors, we always remained optimistic in the fast recovery of travel demand to our region.  Indeed in 2023, Türkiye became the top third most visited destination in the world in terms of inbound trips (45.5m), exceeding pre-pandemic 2019 levels.  Some of the most important reasons for this are its unique location connecting the continents and with such a variety of year-round tourism offerings, as a prominent destination not only for sightseeing and entertainment but also for health, business and education-oriented visitors.  We therefore remain optimistic for continued growth in demand for travel, both to and through Türkiye.

  1. You were recently chair of the Board of Governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Do you think IATA did the most it could and succeeded in defending the interests of the industry during the pandemic?

It has been an honour to continue to be chair of the IATA Chair Committee following my tenure as IATA’s Chair of the Board, especially at a time when the industry was emerging from its worst downturn.

As an industry body, IATA has been working very hard to support and defend our industry both during and after the pandemic and has been successful in key industry matters such as rebuilding global connectivity at great pace, as well as addressing such priorities as sustainability, diversity, regulation, operational challenges, and infrastructure costs.

Our external focus has been on the industry’s recovery after the pandemic-induced shutdown. We emphasised the significance of reinstating connectivity to governments, collaborating with industry partners to facilitate a smooth restart of markets. Despite encountering some challenges at certain airports and with air navigation service providers (ANSPs), the industry as a whole successfully resumed operations.

As IATA, we have also made significant progress in pushing forward our commitment to achieving net zero emissions. We engaged in substantial behind-the-scenes efforts to outline detailed pathways towards reaching net zero. Additionally, we held discussions with governments to advocate for increased policy support for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Diversity and broadening IATA membership has been another strong focus and 2022 was a particularly important year as we achieved the milestone of 50% of IATA members joining the 25by2025 voluntary initiative, driving a more diverse and inclusive aviation industry particularly regarding female representation. We are witnessing real change.

  1. Do you think the industry is now better prepared to confront future crisis?

Aviation leaders continue to face many challenges. In the short-term, we have a variety of economic challenges including high inflation rates and their impact on fuel prices, energy costs and demand to contend with.  Geopolitical crises continue to affect the world, destabilising globalisation and threatening global supply chains. The airline industry is having to fix balance sheets carrying debts of billions, requiring strategic measures to stabilise and strengthen financial positions.

In the longer term, the path to actualise the commitment to net zero emissions also comes with its challenges, together with the pace of digital transformation, and regulatory challenges to ensure airlines remain competitive and resilient in the evolving aviation industry.

However, there’s certainly great room for optimism, particularly when we see how strong the pace of recovery has been from the aviation sector’s worst downturn in living memory.

  1. Thinking of industry challenges such as sustainability and attracting/developing the human resources it needs according to growth forecasts, what will change?

First, in terms of sustainability, we believe in sustainable aviation fuels as one of the main drivers towards our and the industry 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.  We hear a lot of pessimistic remarks about SAF availability and price uncertainty and even wider complaints about who would eventually bear the cost of decarbonising aviation, as SAF production forms a significant part of that roadmap. And all of these are true.  But looking at where we were just one year ago and now, we have seen new projects announced, certain batches of SAF certified under CORSIA, even the price of available fuel has come down. While we will continue to have wider challenges, the industry is very clear in the way it signals its intention to transform and to integrate SAF in this transition and we believe this will be one of the main changes in our industry in the near term.

In terms of human resources, we all know that today’s employment landscape is very different from before Covid-19. There has been a fundamental shift in people’s attitude to their working lives, resulting in many people leaving the workforce altogether. All this is set, too, against the backdrop of the fast pace of change, especially technologically, of the world in which we live.

To prosper, we need to build the right workforce for the future. To achieve this, we must grapple with how we attract talent in such a competitive atmosphere and how we retain the talent that is already contributing to the success of our organisations.  To build the right workforce for the future, we also need our employees to reflect the world we live in. To capture the best talent, we need to attend to the diversity of our workforce. We have no choice but to learn to adapt to this new employment landscape or face being left behind. Only by rising to the challenge can we understand how we can show recognition and foster employee growth, development, and loyalty..

  1. What would you say to current employees or those wanting to work for Pegasus about the future that awaits them?

To our current or future Pegasus family members, I would say that the future holds a mix of challenges and opportunities.  Technological advancements will continue to play a pivotal role in reshaping the industry, from artificial intelligence to improvements in fuel efficiency and sustainability.  It is a fast-changing sector, with a variety of challenges, whilst also a very exciting one that brings people together from all over the world, making it an incredible privilege to work in this sector.

It’s essential for individuals in or considering a career in the airline sector to stay informed, continuously upskill, and foster an agile mindset to navigate the evolving landscape successfully. A passion for the industry and an ability to adapt are two things which will always be vital.

The demand for air travel is expected to keep on growing, so there is the potential for a rewarding and dynamic future in the airline industry, in which working towards a sustainable future will be one of the key areas we’ll be working together for in coming years.

  1. What would you identify as Pegasus key aspect that attracts passengers?

What we most want is to differentiate ourselves from the competition and create value for our customers like no one else has done so far. In the current circumstances, we understand technology is the principal tool to do that. That is why Pegasus is at the forefront in this matter. We are in the top five in terms of incorporating technology and we want to achieve more. Our objective is to be in the first three and how do we get there? For example, we are now working on a project in Silicon Valley by establishing a Technology Innovation Lab that will allow us to monitor the latest technological advancements that can be applied in aviation. But we will not stop there. We will look at China, India, Europe. We have started in Silicon Valley and that means setting up a company there to again be able to differentiate us from the rest of the airlines and to create value to our customers.

  1. Have you considered taking any other international role in the future and/or do you see yourself contributing from any such position in the coming years?

As well as the active role in various NGOs nationally in Türkiye, at the current time I look forward to continuing in my current international role as IATA Member of the Board and moving forward with the current initiatives and important work that is in progress, on behalf of the industry, including on diversity and sustainability.

  1. You marked very publicly the arrival of your 100th aircraft and you have made big announcements in terms of fleet development aiming now at 150. How do you integrate that goal into what has to be a sound sustainability strategy?

These aircraft that we will incorporate to our fleet are 15 to 17 per cent more fuel-efficient.In Türkiye we already have the youngest fleet among all carriers and in Europe we are in fourth place. Having said that, with younger planes and more environmentally friendly engines, we are widening our commitment to protect the environment. If you want to be sustainable and care about the environment you have to do it from the bottom to the top.

Our ESG strategy covers all aspects of our operations. We have also launched the Harmony Project to bring together all aspects, including DE&I, under one umbrella. the Pegasus Cultural Clubs that are part of our approach and that not only cover our operations in Türkiye but also abroad. Our take on sustainability is holistic and it has meant to create a cultural shift within our company and people. The environment is something we inherited and that we are going to pass on. The question we should ask ourselves is, if we added or subtracted because of what we do in those terms, how would it affect our children and grandchildren?

  1. On growth beyond the expansion of your fleet and I mean in terms of reach, what is your plan?

In 2022 we flew to 47 countries and in 2023 we added three more. In that same period, we went from 89 to 98 destinations, and now we fly to 135 destinations in 52 countries. There are a lot of new places where hope to fly next, and we are constantly looking at that. We have added cities like Birmingham and now we are awaiting approval to reach Edinburgh. We are excited with the launch of flights between Ankara and Lisbon, our first destination in Portugal, and we hope to grow further in Portugal and beyond, making sure our growth is  gradual and sustainable.

Beyond our sustainable network and fleet growth and safety being at the heart of every single thing we do, our aim is to continue our pursuit of operational excellence and being at the forefront of digital transformation within aviation; as well as continuing to support our industry’s sustainability goals and championing diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

  1. Why has Türkiye taken such a leadership role in aviation?

There is a saying… “Geography is your destiny” and as I said before, Türkiye is in such a critical place. If you put a compass of time and you draw a five-hour circle, you will see that there are 1.6 to 1.8 billion people around our country so we are a natural hub that can connect north, south, east and west. In short, we are lucky because since the beginning of history we are a passage way and we have turned that into an advantage.