A deep-rooted sense of its own strengths, coupled with a restless focus on innovation and new technologies are in the pilot’s seat at this tri-cultural ‘sun and sand’ specialist.
Sunexpress is tricultural, according to its chief commercial officer, Peter Glade. “We’re German and Turkish (through our owners Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines) and we’re German–Turkish. And that diaspora must be looked after, because we need to understand the market, the customers and the customer needs,” he elaborates.
The airline is leisure-focused, but as Glade points out, so were airberlin and Germania, which weren’t profitable. “We’re the third largest carrier in the Turkish domestic market, serving 19 airports with bases in Antalya and Izmir,” he states. “We know we must pick battles wisely in domestic market. Pegasus know what they’re doing and we recognise that. We’re the airline of the Turkish communities in Germany and fly to places like Izmir, but not Istanbul, from there. We go to the communities. What differentiates us is that we know what we are doing, because we are very like them.”
The carrier has another revenue stream to call on. “We’re a wet lease (ACMI) provider, for AnadoluJet (who we’ve been with for a long time), Eurowings and others,” the CCO notes. “It’s about knowing your customers. We train crews for flexibility – to work for different customers. This approach led to a double digit profit margin in 2019, during which SunExpress continued its record of growing passenger numbers by 10% a year. The airline also made more money through seat-only sales than via package holidays for the first time.
For Glade, innovation is key. “For example, we were the first airline to sell tickets on Amazon Alexa. It’s exciting, but the driver is about thinking of voicecommerce and tourism. Voice-commerce will come if we like it or not,” he declares. For inflight entertainment, SunExpress provides virtual reality (VR) glasses on board. “A market like Antalya is seasonal and it’s difficult to find the right fleet balance. So [alongside our own aircraft], long-standing partners bring in capacity when necessary. But the aircraft brought in do not always have IFE, so there isn’t a constant product. So we rent the goggles to passengers and use a small box to send content. ImmFly and Inflight VR are the providers.”
Glade and his team believe the “next hot thing” is airline retail. “But airlines think that they can do this with old airlinecentric systems – and they can’t. We changed things and did bookings through Facebook Messenger,” he recalls. Regarding network development, the CCO confesses to being impatient. “If a route is not meeting full cost within 12 months it’s out, so it’s in the interest of airports to help out,” he advises. “The average frequency per week in high season is five, but we always want to go daily, then make the route year-round.”
The other focus is alliances. “Having had eight years in the Star Alliance and four at Austrian, I really believe in those. And I’m happy to give up a piece of my cake, as long as the overall cake grows in size.
”Glade says the carrier is a “proud operator of the Boeing 737 and would love to be a proud operator of the 737 MAX. We bought more when crisis was on so there are more than 40 still to come into fleet.” Although he acknowledges there may be passenger fears when the MAX returns to service, Glade doesn’t believe it will be long term. What he does believe will last is SunExpress’s market development as