The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning

Turkish Airlines serves 53 passenger destinations across Africa from Istanbul Airport this year, up by one over 2019. It has more destinations in Africa than in Asia (41). Cairo is the leading route, and Egypt is the top country. Narrowbodies are utterly vital to its African effort, with over two-thirds of 2,000-mile-plus destinations flown by single-aisle aircraft.

The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning
Only one African airport sees Turkish Airlines’ B777-300ERs: Casablanca. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Africa has grown strongly for Turkish Airlines, with destinations increasing from 18 in 2011 to 53 this year. It is an important region for the airline, just as it is for Qatar Airways, which now serves 26 destinations.

Turkish Airlines is better suited geographically to carry traffic to and from Europe, which was its single largest passenger source in 2019. Heathrow to Lagos was the top market over Istanbul, booking data reveals, while Germany-Egypt was number-one at country level.

The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning
The A330-300, seen here, is used to 30 destinations in Africa. Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Algiers see it the most. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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One-stops are crucial

One-stops and ‘triangular’ routings are very important to Turkish Airlines’ Africa operation. This is also the case for Ethiopian Airlines, which is Africa’s leading airline and twice the size of number-two. One-stops enable smaller cities to be served while increasing frequencies, connectivity, and therefore competitiveness and dominance. Strong use of narrowbodies is key too.

Some 23 destinations outbound from Istanbul operate via somewhere this year. Malabo (SSG in the following map) is no exception. The capital of Equatorial Guinea, it is the airline’s newest destination in Africa. Added in early 2020, it routes via Port Harcourt (PHC) in Nigeria, before flying non-stop back to Istanbul.

The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning
Turkish Airlines African passenger destinations this year. Image: GCMap

Hugely about narrowbodies

Narrowbodies are utterly vital to Turkish’s Africa service, even for longer routings. Looking at destinations 2,000 miles away or more, single-aisle aircraft have approximately 10,671 two-way flights, or just over two-thirds of the total this year, data supplied by the carrier to OAG shows. Of these, the B737-900ER has almost four in ten, as shown below.

  1. B737-900ER: an estimated 6,147 two-way flights
  2. B737-800: 4,483
  3. A330-300: 2,863
  4. A330-200: 1,893
  5. B777-300ER: 494
  6. B737 MAX 8: 37
  7. A321: four
  8. B787-9: six

It has 15 B737-900ERs, according to, all active. They’re in a 151-seat configuration, with 16 business seats, along with 135 in economy. Its economy offering is six-abreast, with pitch between 30 and 31″.

The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning
Turkish Airlines uses the B737-900ER on many longer routes from Istanbul, including Abidjan. This routes trianguilarly: Istanbul-Cotonou-Abidjan-Istanbul. On the day of writing, TK559 departed Abidjan at 01:24 and is due into Istanbul at 11:15 after nearly seven hours. Image:

Cairo is the top route

Cairo, some 783 miles from Istanbul, is Turkish Airlines’ number-one Africa destination by flights this year. The top few routes clearly show how important North Africa is for the airline. And, even more significantly, how important Egypt is. Turkish Airlines serves five destinations in the country; four are in the top-ten list (Luxor isn’t). This helps to account for nearly three-times more flights than to the number-two country, Algeria.

  • Cairo: 2,142 two-way flights
  • Algiers: 1,140
  • Tunis: 1,140
  • Sharm El-Sheikh: 1,036
  • Hurghada: 1,014
  • Dakar (operates triangularly with Banjul or Nouakchott, depending on the day): 744
  • Khartoum: 730
  • Alexandria: 720
  • Djibouti (continues to Mogadishu): 704 each
  • Lagos: 691

Cairo is served 21-weekly by Turkish Airlines, all by A321s. This is the same offering it had in pre-pandemic 2019. When fellow Star Alliance airline, EgyptAir, is included, there are up to 38 weekly departures.

The Battle For Africa: Why Turkish Airlines Is Winning
While the B737-900ER is king on Africa routes over 2,000 miles, the A321, as here, is important on shorter services, including to Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Sudan. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying.

Three destinations in Nigeria

Nigeria is Turkish Airlines’ third-largest country in Africa. It is one of only a minimal number of nations in the sub-Sahara in which it serves more than one passenger destination. While Abuja and Lagos are both currently operating once-daily, Port Harcourt resumes on a three-weekly basis from November.

Abuja and Lagos are interesting. Aircraft don’t continue elsewhere and remain on the ground all day. For example, TK625 to Lagos leaves Istanbul at 01:25, part of a huge departure bank, and arrives at 06:15. Returning, TK626 leaves at 20:45 and arrives back into Turkey at 05:25, a significant arrivals bank.

Have you flown Turkish Airlines to/from Africa? Let us know in the comments.