Güliz Öztürk, CEO of Pegasus Airlines, says equal opportunities have driven the carrier’s growth. Graham Newton reports.
Why is diversity so important to the airline?
Diversity has always been integral to our vision. Our company is 33% women, including 70 female pilots. At our head office, it is 49% women. It has been an important factor in our success, which is why we understand that this is a continuous journey. You cannot stand still.
But this is not only an aviation issue. It is a global concern, and all companies are trying to achieve some measure of diversity. All we are looking for is a balance—to have men and women equally represented in the workplace. Even so, the World Economic Forum estimates it will take 132 years to get there.
It will be more difficult for aviation than many other industries. This has traditionally been a male-dominated sector. Predominantly men flew aircraft, predominantly men designed them and maintained them. Those aspects of the industry were not encouraged as areas that women could work in and so we are starting from zero and trying to achieve equal representation. That is a long journey.
But does diversity make business sense?
Airlines and any good organization recognize diversity as a core value. Like sustainability, this is not an area a business can ignore.
But there is a simple business rationale too. Basically, half of the population is female and if you don’t have true equal opportunities, you exclude 50% of the job pool. Aviation is not in a position to do that.
We have some good individual stories among airlines, but the industry does need to take a wider view. That means ensuring there is no mindset that takes us backward.
Remember, all we are asking for is a balance. We want to put the right person in the right job regardless of gender.
Are role models important and who was important in your career?
I was lucky. I have been at Pegasus for 17 years and before that with I was with Turkish Airlines for 23 years, becoming their head of sales and marketing.
Pegasus is a young company and has always had a supportive atmosphere. I never felt that there was any discrimination and always believed I was bringing something positive to the company.
Being a leader, you need to have certain qualities, but your gender isn’t one of them. You must have confidence, work hard, and always be willing to learn.
Role models are extremely valuable because you do have doubts sometimes. As a woman, you will have moments where you wonder if you can take charge of mostly male pilots and engineers. But a role model gives people the courage to persevere, to change a company culture if necessary, and to provide support for other women. A role model is an enabler for diversity.
But equally important is having men believing in diversity. They must trust women to bring creativity, productivity, and profitability. We won’t achieve our diversity goals unless men are equally committed to the cause. As I said, I was lucky. I had that support. I had people believing that I would make the company successful.
How successful has the company been?
Pegasus started in 2005 as a low-cost carrier but our product has evolved, and we now have a unique proposition in the marketplace. We started with six domestic destinations and 14 aircraft. We now serve 125 destinations in 47 countries with 95 aircraft.
But it has never been purely about growth. Aside from diversity, sustainability and
digitization have been high on the agenda. We want to be a digital airline that offers a responsible, sustainable product.
Does sustainability make business sense for you?
Sustainability is not just about the future of our airline. It is about the future of travel, and the future of the world. We can’t hold back. I don’t think we can view this as a choice between making a business profitable and pursuing environment initiatives. They cannot exist in isolation. You need both.
We have used sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and we expect them to form around 65% of the industry’s net zero carbon emissions goal. It is true that they are expensive now but that is because production is low. If the production planned to come online does so, then we will start to see a better balance between demand and supply and a better price.
But affordable, readily available SAF requires the entire aviation value chain, from governments and regulators to the refineries. There must be incentive mechanisms to encourage the production and use of SAF because we do need a lot of SAF to reach net zero. But I am optimistic, and I believe that the sector will adjust to the needs of the market.
What role will digitization play in your strategy?
Digitization is in our DNA. We think of Pegasus as a digital airline.
For example, people are starting to talk about moving into artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). But we have been using AI and ML since 2017 to understand the amount of catering we need to load for onboard sales. We learned at an early stage that historical data alone was not enough and to use these new technologies to help decision making.
That project has been extremely successful. It has enabled us to keep our customers happy because we have the products that they want to buy, it has profited the airline because our sales are strong, and it has benefitted the environment because waste is at a minimum.
We are now implementing ML into revenue management and our pricing mechanisms. It is essential because historical data has lost its relevance due to the pandemic. Booking habits have changed, passenger behavior has changed. Now is the ideal time to make the transition to ML.
We have also developed 64 new Express Baggage kiosks that not only assist with check-in and bag tags but also allow our customers to buy ancillaries. And our App provides a QR code that means minimal contact through the airport if that is what a passenger wants and stops the need to constantly re-enter details.
Our customer satisfaction scores are high, and they are increasing.
Another area that is of great interest to us to keep aircraft utilization high is predictive maintenance. It can prevent an aircraft being taken out of service and generally provides for more efficient operations.
Is it important to have a supportive airport partner when you implement the customer-facing technologies?
It is always important to work closely with airports but there is always room for improvement too. About 67% of our operations are from Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen International Airport and so that is where we have some flexibility to be innovative.
Airports will change considerably to accommodate new, automated processes. For example, biometrics will dominate, and I think that will stop the need for check-in in the future. What does check-in achieve that we don’t already know? It is an unnecessary extra step. The customer experience will be completely automated all the way through the airport. They will only need to leave their bags.
But, of course, this is not a technical challenge. It can be done today. But it needs all the players, including airports, to support the changes if they are to be implemented successfully.