Turkish Airlines seals huge deal to buy 117 Airbus planes

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkish national flag-carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) signed on Wednesday a gigantic deal for up to 117 planes with European manufacturer Airbus in a deal worth up to US$9.3 billion (S$11.5 billion euros) at catalogue prices.

"We are inking today the biggest deal ever clinched by a Turkish airline," THY chairman Hamdi Topcu said during a ceremony with Airbus in Istanbul finalising the order first announced last month.

Neither THY or Airbus provided financial details, but at catalogue prices the aircraft would be worth some US$9.3 billion, although discounts are usually obtained for large orders.

The order centres on Airbus' A320 medium-haul family of aircraft, mostly on the new fuel-efficient Neo versions, and includes firm orders for 82 planes and an option for 35 others, to be delivered by 2020.

THY currently has a fleet of 215 planes, 107 of them purchased from Airbus and the rest from its US rival Boeing.

With the new order, the THY expects to be operating a 375-plane fleet by 2020, hoping to become "one of the 10 largest airlines in the world and carry 90 million passengers a year," according to Topcu.

The airline flew 39 million passengers last year, and its aiming for 46 million this year.

"Today we celebrate a great achievement for Airbus and Turkish Airlines," Airbus CEO Fabrice Bregier told reporters ahead of the ceremony.

Bregier praised THY's growth, which he said was faster than Airbus.

Starting off as a monopoly, THY was privatised 10 years ago, which Turkish Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said "put the company on a rational footing that allowed this extensive growth."

In recent months, the company has also ordered 20 longer-range Airbus A330-300s aircraft, putting the total number of potential purchases as high as 137 planes.

Bregier also said Airbus was looking to be the "biggest partner" for Turkish aerospace companies by reaching a cumulative spending of US$2.4 billion in the country by 2025.

Transport Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey would welcome "more of Airbus", calling on the company to produce planes in Turkey.

As part of a shopping spree that began in October, the THY also placed orders for 95 Boeing planes, including 70 firm orders to be delivered by 2021.