87 Routes: How Turkish Airlines Uses Its 22 Boeing 737 MAXs

The world now has more operational B737 MAXs than it did before the type’s grounding. While North America is very much responsible for this, Turkish Airlines plays a key role. Indeed, the Star Alliance carrier has now 22 MAXs, comprising 18 MAX 8s and four larger MAX 9s.

Turkish Airlines Boeing 737 MAX
Turkish Airlines’ top ten MAX routes this month are all domestic. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

Turkish Airlines’ B737 MAXs

Turkish Airlines’ first MAX 8 (TC-LCA) arrived in December 2018, with 11 delivered by February 2019. This was the month before Ethiopian Airlines’ accident occurred which resulted in a worldwide grounding of the MAXs until December 2020. Turkish now has the fourth-highest number of MAX 8s, after Southwest, American, and Air Canada, ch-aviation.com shows.

  • B737 MAX 8s, 151 seats: 16 in business (not fully lie-flat) and 135 in economy (“31 pitch)
  • B737 MAX 9s, 169 seats: 16 in business (not fully lie-flat) and 153 in economy (30-31″)

Meanwhile, Turkish’s first MAX 9 (TC-LYA) arrived in February 2019, followed by three more in 2021. It’s no lie: the most recently delivered (TC-LYE) arrived in Istanbul on September 29th, although it had been stored in the US since 2019. It routed from Boeing Field via Goose Bay and Keflavik and entered service on October 2nd from Istanbul to Ankara. So far, only domestic round-trips have operated.

Istanbul to Marseille MAX 9
TC-LYA, Turkish’s first MAX 9, is flying between Istanbul and Marseille. It landed as the article was finished. It operated Istanbul-Alexandria-Istanbul overnight before flying to France. Image: Radarbox.com.

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Use of the MAX 8 has grown strongly

This October, Turkish Airlines has nearly 25,000 round-trip flights to/from its Istanbul Airport hub, based on analyzing schedules information supplied to data experts OAG. This is 80% of what it had in October 2019.

As shown below, the A321 has by far the most flights this month, partly as it doesn’t separate the A321ceo and neo. Notice how strongly the use of the MAX 8 is developing. It’s worth comparing use to the next-generation B737-800. While Turkish has 55% fewer MAX 8s, their flights are just 23% lower than the B737-800. The carrier is disproportionately using MAXs for their superior economics and to reduce ownership costs.

  1. A321ceo/neo: 36.82% of flights from Istanbul in October
  2. B737-800: 16.63%
  3. B737 MAX 8: 12.77%
  4. A330-300: 9.73%
  5. B777-300ER: 6.25%
  6. B737-900ER: 4.09%
  7. B787-9: 3.80%
  8. A319: 3.63%
  9. A330-200: 2.37%
  10. B737 MAX 9: 2.29%
  11. A350-900: 1.00%
  12. A320ceo: 0.59%
Heavy use of the MAX 8 is partly because of using flights as the measurement. After all, more than half of its flights are domestic, accounting for an average sector length of 662 nautical miles – one-fifth less than the A321. This helps with greater rotations. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

Where is Turkish Airlines using its MAXs?

Some 87 destinations from Istanbul are seeing or will see the MAX this month. If both derivatives are combined, the top ten routes by flights are all domestic: the 193 nautical mile link to Izmir has the most services, followed by Adana, Gaziantep, Ankara, Kayseri, Antalya, Dalaman, Trabzon, Bodrum, and Hatay, near the Syrian border.

Turkish's MAX network in October 2021
This is Turkish’s MAX network in October. There are three triangular routes: Istanbul-Zanzibar-Dar Es Salaam-Istanbul, Istanbul-Douala-Yaounde-Istanbul, and Istanbul-Yaounde-Douala-Istanbul. Image: GCMap.com.

Internationally, Basel and Malta have the same number of MAX movements and more than any other, as detailed below. All but one flight to them is by the lower-capacity variant. Indeed, the MAX 8 dominates to nine of the top ten destinations.

  • Basel
  • Malta
  • Lviv
  • Sharm El Sheikh
  • Sofia
  • Valencia
  • Alexandria
  • Zurich
  • Bremen
  • Marseille

The exception is to this MAX 8 domination is Marseille, which is mainly by the larger sibling. But like many routes, Marseille sees multiple aircraft this month: both MAX variants and also the A321, B737-800, and B737-900ER.