It has been called ‘The New Silk Road’ and Turkish Airlines is promoting Istanbul’s new airport as an aerial bridge between east and west as it expands to take advantage of Turkey’s location to become one of the world’s largest carriers.

The new airport has already had its soft opening, but is expected to be fully operational in the next few months to handle Turkish Airlines’ flights, including the ones to and from Kathmandu. Situated 35km northwest of the city near the Black Sea coastline, the $35 billion airport will have six runways and a capacity to serve 200 million passengers a year when it is fully completed by 2023.

“The new airport was a must to accommodate Turkish Airlines’ growth plans, and we hope to give passengers to and from Nepal much more comfort and flexibility with better connectivity when the airport opens fully soon,” says Turkish’s Nepal manager Abdullah Tuncer Kececi.

More than 90% of the passengers on Turkish between Kathmandu and Istanbul are transit, and the new airport is expected to make transfers much more convenient compared to the current, congested Ataturk airport. Even at the existing airport, nearly three-quarters of all flights are operated by Turkish and the figure is expected to be higher at the new hub.

Turkish Airlines is on an ambitious expansion drive augmenting its current fleet of 300 aircraft to 500 by 2023. The airline currently flies to 306 destinations worldwide, and will be adding 100 more cities in the next four years. The new airport is already operating some of its daily flights to London, Frankfurt, Munich, etc on a trial basis, but will make an overnight shift of all flight operations from the old to new airport by April 5-6.

Turkish Airlines will resume its Kathmandu frequency to daily before the spring tourist season, and is involved with Nepal Tourism Board in promoting Visit Nepal 2020 campaign with its target of increasing the number of tourists visiting Nepal to 2 million.

“For Turkish Airlines, Nepal has been a tourism destination from day one,” Kececi says, “that is why we want to be supportive of any promotional activity that Nepal government undertakes to promote tourism here.”

With its daily flights, Turkish will be offering a 17% capacity increase to 170,000 passengers both ways between Kathmandu and Istanbul this year. The airlines has introduced a special student fare, with 10kg extra luggage, and a free one-time flight change offer. The airlines is also offering stopovers for transit passengers, and hopes that traffic to Istanbul will get a boost after the new airport is inaugurated.

“We have decided to increase capacity despite difficulties because we believe in working together with other companies to boost Nepal tourism,” says Kececi, who has been attending travel trade fairs to promote a Special Nepal Package with Turkish Airlines offices in Europe, North America and other markets. He will also be attending the leading international travel and tourism fair ITB Berlin next week in which Nepal’s Tourism Minister who died in the tragic helicopter crash this week was also supposed to take part.

Turkish Airlines has also been hosting familiarisation trips for travel trade executives from Israel, Spain, Germany and Turkey itself to promote Nepal as a major Asian destination. It will soon be hosting a delegation from Houston to get American tour operators excited about Nepal again.

Lonely Planet has listed Kathmandu as number 5 in the Top Ten best travel destination in 2019 because ‘the narrative (in Nepal) is all about reconstruction and rejuvenation’.  With the excitement building up for 2020, some travel trade officials are however worried about the congestion and new difficulties on arrival at Kathmandu, as well as runway repairs starting next month that will close the airport for 10 hours a day.

Nevertheless, Kececi is optimistic about 2020, and says: “Nepal has huge untapped potential for adventure tourism, culture, nature. We need to tell the world that it is more than just mountains.”