Turkish Airlines Was Set To Be Afghanistan’s Top Foreign Airline

Turkish Airlines has served Afghanistan for a decade, with Kabul starting in 2011 and Mazar-i-Sharif two years later. Perhaps surprisingly, 2021 was to be the carrier’s best yet to the country, with over 250,000 available seats for the first time. As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, we look at how Turkish Airlines, which was to be the country’s largest foreign carrier, has developed there.

Turkish A330
While the A330 has partly operated to Kabul since 2012, it became exclusively by the type only in 2018. Photo: TJDarmstadt via Flickr.

Turkish Airlines to Kabul

Turkish Airlines began Istanbul Atatürk to Kabul on July 10th, 2011, using the Boeing 737-800. In 2011, the 2,237-mile route was served only by narrowbodies, primarily the A320. However, widebodies (the A330-300 and A340-300) began to appear the following year, OAG data indicates, but it wasn’t until 2018 that the route was solely by twin-aisles (the A330-200 and -300).

In 2019, Turkish Airlines had 191,000 round-trip seats to the Afghan capital. Despite coronavirus, it had scheduled 15% more capacity in 2021, taking its offering to 220,000. It would have commanded over seven in ten of the market’s seats (72%), far outstripping the other players: Afghanistan’s Kam Air (19%; B737-500, B767-300ER, and A340-300) and Ariana (8%; B737-400).

Turkish Airlines to Afghanistan
This year, Turkish Airlines’ growth meant it was Afghanistan’s largest foreign airline, surpassing flydubai and Emirates, partly assisted by those carriers’ cuts. Source: OAG.

Kabul had grown to 10-weekly

Turkish Airlines’ planned 15% growth resulted from its normally seven-weekly service increasing to 10-weekly this summer. In the week beginning August 16th, the carrier’s Kabul schedule was to be as follows (all times are local). Note that the B777-300ER was scheduled to replace the A330 this week, perhaps to airlift more people out of the country as the Taliban spread.

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  • TK706, Istanbul-Kabul: seven-weekly; B777-300ER; 00:40-06:40
  • TK724, Istanbul-Kabul: three-weekly; A330-300; 02:10-08:00
  • TK707, Kabul-Istanbul: daily; B777-300ER; 08:15-12:15
  • TK725, Kabul-Istanbul: three-weekly; A330-300; 09:45-13:55
Turkish Airlines A330
Kabul began in 2011 when Atatürk was still used. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

Turkish Airlines to Mazar-i-Sharif

It wasn’t only Kabul that Turkish Airlines served. Mazar-i-Sharif, near the Uzbekistan and Tajikistan borders, began on November 19th, 2013. It initially used the 153-seat A320, although from then on, the 2,077-mile route was mainly served by the 126-seat A319.

Between 2013 and 2021, Istanbul to Mazar-i-Sharif was the third-longest of Turkish’s A319 routes, after Osh (Kyrgyzstan; 2,280 miles) and Khujand (Tajikistan; 2,130 miles).

Obviously, it is highly uncertain when Turkish Airlines will resume Mazar-i-Sharif. Nonetheless, the current schedule is as follows (all times are local):

  • TK736, Istanbul-Mazar-i-Sharif: three-weekly; B737-900ER; 00:50-06:40
  • TK737, Mazar-i-Sharif-Istanbul: three-weekly; B737-900ER; 07:40-11:25
Kabul and Mazar
It is not yet known precisely when Turkish Airlines will again serve Afghanistan. Image: GCMap.

Where did its Kabul passengers go?

Looking back to 2019, Turkish Airlines carried approximately 155,000 round-trip passengers from Istanbul to Kabul, booking data obtained from OAG Traffic Analyzer shows. This equates to an estimated seat load factor of 81%, pretty much the airline’s system average that year.

Turkish A321
While the A330 was the most commonly used aircraft to Kabul, various others, including the A321 (as shown here), have also have been used. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying.

77% of Kabul passengers transited Istanbul

The vast bulk of passengers connected to Afghanistan over Istanbul. Germany was the leading country, followed by the UK, broader Turkey, the US, and the Netherlands. As you’d expect, this mainly reflects Afghan diaspora, with Germany having the most in Europe.

As shown below, most passengers were to/from Western Europe, with London-Kabul the largest market at city-level. However, at airport level, it was Ankara-Kabul, suggesting that Kam Air’s once-weekly non-stop service wasn’t sufficient.

  1. London-Kabul
  2. Ankara-Kabul
  3. Frankfurt-Kabul
  4. Amsterdam-Kabul
  5. Brussels-Kabul
  6. Düsseldorf-Kabul
  7. Oslo-Kabul
  8. Hamburg-Kabul
  9. Copenhagen-Kabul
  10. Paris-Kabul

Have you flown Turkish Airlines to Afghanistan? Let us know in the comments.