Turkey's Onur to add 6-7 Airbus planes to fleet as tourism recovers

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish budget airline Onur Air plans to acquire six to seven Airbus aircraft by the end of next year to meet growing demand, its chief executive said, as Turkey’s ailing tourism industry sees a gradual recovery.

Teoman Tosun told Reuters there were signs of improvement in the industry after a difficult year in 2016. Foreign tourist arrivals to Turkey fell 30 percent last year due to security concerns and a political row with Russia.

“We may add six to seven more planes to our fleet, two of them wide-body ... They will all be Airbus. We will start in August 2017 and continue in 2018 as well,” he said in an interview late on Wednesday.

Onur Air was forced to cut four aircraft from its fleet last year, bringing its total down to 24, Tosun said. Turkish tourism, which normally contributes $30 billion to the economy annually, was hammered after a series of bombings and after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in late 2015, prompting a diplomatic crisis.

The two countries have since normalized ties. Foreign visitors to Turkey rose for the first time in two years this April, data showed this week, with almost half of the increase coming from Russia.

From Istanbul Onur Air flies 11 domestic routes and eight international ones, including to Amsterdam, Berlin and Paris. It competes with national carrier Turkish Airlines as well as budget airline Pegasus.

It deploys 10 of its planes for so-called “wet leasing”, when an airline leases an aircraft, including crew and maintenance, to another airline. Onur Air also prefers to lease first when expanding, Tosun said.

“We are following a policy of leasing planes and purchasing them once their lease period is finished. We mainly lease second-hand planes, we don’t opt to get planes from the factory as their delivery times are long.”

He also said the airline had received offers, predominantly from the Middle East, about a partnership and that Onur Air could sell a stake if a suitable investor came along.

“There is a lot of interest, we meet from time to time,” Tosun said. “If we find an investor with solid investment and who can understand our principles, we may sell shares.”

Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan, Greg Mahlich