ISTANBUL — When Temel Kotil took over in October as the new CEO for Tusas Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI), his desk was full of scores of ambitious indigenous development programs, including a fighter jet. Six months into the job, the former head of Turkey’s national carrier Turkish Airlines, promises viable solutions to military programs – but also expansion of the civilian portfolio through international partnerships.

"TAI’s future lies [mainly] with civilian programs," Kotil said along the sidelines of IDEF’17 in Istanbul.

Kotil is planning a "transformation" for TAI in the next decade or two, with plans for the company to generate three-quarters of its earnings from civilian programs. Presently, military programs account for about two thirds of the company’s earnings. TAI reported $1.6 billion sales in 2016 of which $500 million came from civilian work. 

"TAI should become a civilian aviation manufacturer, although there are many players in this field," Kotil said. "This is a challenging task."

Kotil said that TAI recently proposed a risk-sharing partnership to Boeing for the U.S. company’s 737-900 program. "We have the impression that Boeing might think it may be too early for TAI to take up such a partnership. But they will consider our offer."

And not just Boeing, Kotil said. TAI is also looking at other opportunities to join strategic civilian programs through international risk-sharing partnership deals. One such venture is TAI’s partnership in the multinational program for the production of the A400M large transport aircraft.

TAI’s majority shares are controlled by the Turkish government. Kotil said that after he took over as CEO he got orders from Defense Minister Fikri Isik to boost TAI’s earnings to $10 billion – an ambitious task. 

Kotil said TAI will employ 10,000 engineers when its fighter program takes off. It currently employs 2,000. The TF-X, an indigenous fighter jet Turkey plans to develop and build with British Aerospace Industries (BAE), will make its maiden flight by 2023 and enter service by 2029. The TF-X will be a supersonic, low-fuel, low-cost, long-range, stealth fighter with double-engine, Kotil said. One of the program’s spill-over benefits will be to earn Turkey’s local industry new capabilities, like producing aerospace-grade titanium and aluminium as well as advanced equipment and testing technologies.    

TAI signed May 10 a second development contract with BAE. Under the four-year contract, BAE will provide TAI with up to 150 engineers a year for the design and development phase of the TF-X. "We’ll see if the first four years will yield desirable progress to sign for another four years," Kotil said.

TAI and BAE signed Jan. 28 a $125 million "Heads of Agreement" to collaborate on the first development phase of the planned fifth-generation fighter jet. "There is no fifth generation fighter jet in Europe. It would be in European governments’ interest to join our program," said Kotil. "We want a fighter which we can sell to any buyer without any restrictions [export licenses from foreign countries]."

PDR [preliminary design review] with BAE is the most critical phase in the TF-X program, according to Kotil. 

"An entirely Turkish engine will power the aircraft after 2029," he said. "Until then we will find a stop-gap engine solution."

At this stage of the program the engine contract lures some foreign manufacturers. Just a day before IDEF’17 opened, Rolls-Royce said it partnered with Turkish industrial group Kale with the aim of building engines for the TF-X program. Under the deal, Rolls-Royce will own 49 percent of the joint venture with Kale. The group will aim both civilian and military aircraft engines but will initially focus on an engine for the TF-X.

Beyond being a partner in the U.S.-led multinational Joint Strike Fighter program, TAI’s development programs include unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and basic trainer aircraft, including an armed version. At IDEF’17 TAI also showcased a mock-up for the T-625, a utility helicopter it indigenously developed. The T-625s will replace the aging UH-1H’s in Turkey’s inventory.

Kotil said TAI recently launched work on a project to indigenously build a one-ton satellite with eight transponders. He said the company plans to send it into the orbit in two years.