Founded in May 2018 in partnership with Turkish Airlines, Albania’s new flag carrier has big ambitions. Not only does it aim to serve all the main European cities with the same high standards as its award-winning partner, but it also has long-term goals to transform the market, help open up the country to the world, and create whole new career opportunities for young Albanians. As company CEO Sinan Dilek puts it, Air Albania wants to become a creator of dreams
What is the importance of having a national carrier, and why is this the right time for it?
There is definitely a need in the market, and a need in Albania as a country, to have its own flag carrier company. Albanians deserve it. We’ve observed two types of demand: first there is the fact that the number of Albanians who live in Albania is nearly the same as those who live abroad, particularly in Europe and the US. There is an Albanian diaspora that represents a huge potential for air travel. Secondly, after the reforms, more and more Europeans have started to come to Albania. There are businesspeople and there are tourists who want to discover a new destination. This is also a very good stepping stone into the whole Balkans region. In recent years, people have been hearing more about Albania, about our beaches and our cultural cities. Air traffic has increased a lot in the last two years: more than two million people used Tirana airport last year. And Scandinavians are starting to buy property here as an investment, which is proof that they have faith in this country.
What are your goals in the short and long term?
Albania has a lot of potential as a country, but companies need to get involved in order to become more competitive. Our investment is not just in passenger traffic, but also in the transfer of know-how and experience, which will help develop the entire industry. We are not only looking to carry people from A to B but also to grow the sector and to improve the human resources and the technology. Right now, for instance, there is a shortage of pilots, cabin crew and maintenance crew in Albania, and my dream is that Air Albania can help train all kinds of civil aviation personnel. This is a huge investment not just in a company, but in the entire industry. The Air Albania project brings a future for university graduates who can dream of becoming pilots, cabin crew and so on. So we are also filling those gaps. There are short-term needs that we are going to serve: taking people from here to there. But there are also long-term needs that we are going to fill involving personal dreams, education, and projects for the future. We will think about how to increase flights and destinations, but not only: this project is also about something bigger, it is a dream creator for Albanians.
It was a government goal to establish a national carrier. Since the early 1990s there have been five failed attempts. Why is this one going to succeed?
For one thing, the situation now is more stable and there have already been many investments made in the country. The government has already proven itself through its reforms, and the last six years have been the most effective for Albania, so we cannot compare the present time with the 1990s. Additionally, 49 percent of Air Albania is owned by Turkish Airlines, which is a multiple award-winning carrier. This is important in the airline business: people look at who you are working with, and we are working with one of the best. The two countries were always close and there is also good communication between the governments of Albania and Turkey over this project, which is why I am confident that this is going to work.
What is the philosophy behind the airline? What will you offer passengers?
It will not be a low-cost company: it will be a company serving both business and economy classes. Punctuality is really declining in the market overall and the quality of the service is low, and we are confident that we can score better on both points, maintaining good standards to the same level as Turkish Airlines. In this line of business, safety is first, and when people ask what quality level we have, it will be the same as Turkish Airlines. By having two classes we can differentiate the product while offering high safety and service quality in all cases. We are going to change the market, and this market definitely needs some changes.
What is the timeline and where do you plan to fly?
The first destination is Turkey. Turkish Airlines is pulling out of the Tirana-Istanbul route, which will be served by Air Albania. Other destinations are mainly in Europe because of the demand, and we plan to gradually increase the cities that we serve. We will focus on places where the Albanian diaspora lives and on the big cities.
What would you say about Albania to potential German tourists or investors?
Albania has changed a lot from what it used to be. There is an Albanian diaspora in Germany and now they will be able to fly home with their own flag carrier. The businessmen and the politicians and the tourists will all be able to fly with us. Scandinavians and Germans are already looking for property to invest in and to spend their summer holidays, and we are the perfect choice. We have Mediterranean weather, beaches, historical cities and a culture of food.
How will Air Albania and AlbControl, the air traffic controller, work together on a common goal?
What AlbControl is doing for its own sector, where it went from having no experience to training controllers from other countries, Air Albania will do as well. Maybe in future we will see civil aviation studies at universities, and we could help train pilots, cabin crew, technicians. Through its open air space, Albania the unknown is opening itself to Europe and the world, and this air space is hugely important and symbolic for the youth of this country and for this new phase of continued development.