Erdogan threatens to ‘rethink’ Turkey’s Boeing orders over US sanctions

As US-Turkey relations deteriorate further over arms deals, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has issued a thinly-veiled threat that Ankara might reconsider the purchase of 100 Boeing passenger aircraft, while urging the United States to be “reasonable” with potential sanctions against Turkey.

“Even if we’re not getting F-35s, we are buying 100 advanced Boeing aircraft, the agreement is signed… At the moment, one of the Boeing planes has arrived and we are making the payments, we are good customers,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Ankara on Friday, adding that “if things go on like that, we will have to rethink this matter.”

The ongoing row between Ankara and Washington over Russian-made S-400 missile systems has already resulted in the suspension of the delivery of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey in an attempt to pressure it into abandoning the deal. The US has repeatedly said that Russian-made weaponry hurts NATO security and might compromise the F-35s if the two get anywhere close.

Turkey, however, has seen the deal through – earlier this month, the first batch of the Russian-made systems arrived. The delivery resulted in US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Ankara not to render the S-400s “operational” – or it will face more sanctions.

However, Turkey’s Erdogan announced that the deployment of the S-400 will go according to schedule and the systems will be online in April 2020, after all the required assembly works and crew training. Aside from mulling possibility of scrapping the Boeing deals, Erdogan vowed to “actively use” the anti-aircraft systems after they go online.

The threat against Boeing might be quite serious – for the company, at least – given the amount of planes Ankara has ordered. As of now, it has active orders on 100 Boeing aircraft, worth around $10 billion. In 2013, the nation’s flagship carrier, Turkish Airlines, announced a decision to purchase 75 ‘737 MAX’ planes, the jets which are currently grounded after two fatal crashes. In 2018, the company said it will purchase an additional 25 Boeing 787-9 jets. Several new planes were delivered to Turkey earlier this year.

All the aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by 2023, and are expected to greatly boost Boeing’s presence in the Turkish Airlines’ fleet. The carrier already operates some 150 planes produced by the manufacturer, but the majority of them are leased.