Positive effects of the rapid vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic doubled by measures implemented in the airline industry have lifted the prospects of Turkey’s air transport sector, promising a better near term, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Turkey Airline Pilots’ Association (TALPA) said Sunday.
The aviation industry came to a standstill due to the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Captain Hüseyin Murat Ersoy, who spoke on the developments regarding the industry, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that there are 7,200 active pilots in Turkey, some 5,200 of which are the association members.
Ersoy, who also continues his profession as the chief captain and instructor pilot in the Boeing 777 fleet at Turkish Airlines (THY), said that the pandemic affected aviation heavily, as it did many sectors and professional groups, and that thousands of planes could not make their flights.
Stating that many pilots were unemployed during the pandemic, Ersoy said that many of them were unable to work anything except for cargo and evacuation flights.
The negative course of the pandemic was felt deeply in the industry, he said, as some 11 pilots in the association lost their lives to this outbreak.
“In this period, when we were very negatively affected, we tried to get through the process with the least damage by meeting with airline companies and managers,” he said.
Ersoy stated that online meetings and seminars were held during the pandemic, and that there were some changes in the functioning of the aviation industry such as remote working for some of the employees.
“But the sector is in a good shape right now,” he said, noting that the flag carrier THY is spearheading the transformation in the industry in the post-pandemic period.
“The (air traffic) predictions of the European Air Navigation Organization (Eurocontrol) in last year's report were 79% compared to the pre-pandemic period. At the moment, we have reached 71% as of September. This is a very good development. Because this means that we are progressing very well. In fact, we, as TALPA, predict that it will reach better points in the March-April 2022 period,” he said.
Ersoy stated that, during the beginning of the pandemic many flights were cargo transportation since passenger traffic was halted for a limited time. Thankfully, the intense volume of those flights contributed to the survival of many airline companies with the progress of Turkish civil aviation, he said.
Boosted by the pandemic need, the cargo transportation branch of the national carrier became the largest and fastest growing cargo carrier. Turning the crisis into an opportunity with cargo transportation, THY's cargo transportation market share reached 5%, bringing the company up to sixth place globally.
The global air cargo brand has also been completing an important mission for vaccine transportation.
Noting that they made one-on-one meetings with the Ministry of Health with the start of vaccination, Ersoy said that institutions related to the aviation sector get vaccine priority after health workers as they are one of the sectors facing high risk.
Ersoy stated that the second dose of vaccination in the aviation industry has reached 90% and that this is very important and that everyone should be receiving their jabs.
Ersoy also reminded that as of Sept. 6, within the scope of the Ministry of Internal Affairs circular, PCR tests are requested from passengers on domestic flights who have not been vaccinated or who have not had a coronavirus disease within the last 180 days.
"We carry certain risks on the plane. For example, I fly a Boeing 777. The capacity of this plane is 350 passengers. You travel to places with this number of passengers and of course there are HEPA filters and although most of our planes have full precautions such as disinfectant, hygiene rules, distance and masking, a person carrying the COVID-19 virus affects many things in a chain. It causes many passengers and flight personnel to go into quarantine. Therefore, I think that two doses of vaccine and PCR testing is a very right decision and should be applied in this way,” he explained.
However, there are some difficulties, for example regarding the measures in other parts of the globe like in some Asian countries, he said.
“We are experiencing various difficulties in our flights to the continent. Some states on that continent keep aircrews in quarantine in their hotel rooms, even if you have a double dose of vaccination and a negative PCR test,” Ersoy said.