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Europe has a new airline, one deemed so important for its country that the Prime Minister in person showed up at the inaugural ceremony on Friday.

It’s Air Albania, the new flag carrier of the nation just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, where air traffic has grown by a huge 13.4% in the first half of this year — but with only a tiny Albanian-owned airline, Albawings. All other airlines serving this booming market of almost 3 million people, and a candidate for membership in the European Union, are based somewhere else. The previous Albanian flag carrier, Albanian Airlines, had folded in 2011.

Enter Turkish Airlines, which has made a strategic long-term investment in Albania, according to prime minister Edi Rama, who spoke at the Mother Teresa airport in Tirana (TIA) to welcome the airline’s first airplane.

Turkish news site Daily Sabah reports that Turkish Airlines owns 49% of the airline’s $30 million capital, with the rest held by Albanian investors. The decision to expand into Albania’s air transport market might have come from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself: “We could not be here without the initiative and generous support of Erdoğan,” Rama said according to Daily Sabah.

Turkish Airlines board member Mithat Görkem Aksoy added, speaking at the ceremony, that “we will make much bigger investments in Albania.”

It’s not yet clear whether passengers will be able to collect Turkish Airlines’ Miles & Smiles currency on Air Albania. Its first destinations will be in nearby Balkan countries. It’s safe to predict that route expansion will target the places where most Albanians go: Italy, where a vast Albanian diaspora spread after the 1991 opening of the borders with the fall of Communism; London, another city where many Albanians live and work; and Istanbul, the home base of Turkish Airlines.

TIRANA, ALBANIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (C) makes a speech during the opening ceremony of the newly established Air Albania at the Tirana International Airport Nene Tereza, in Tirana, Albania on September 14, 2018. Turkey
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama speaks during the inuaugural  ceremony of the newly established Air Albania. (Photo by Olsi Shehu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Turkish also provided Air Albania’s only aircraft, an 11-year old Airbus A319 taken from its own fleet.

Press photos from the inauguration show an A319 bearing the Turkish registration TC-JLR. A check of flight tracking site Flightradar24 indicates that it stopped flying for Turkish in late August and was flown to Tirana on September 14.

With the current economic crisis in Turkey coupled with the expected arrival of dozens of new single-aisle aircraft from this year until 2022, Turkish Airlines might soon find itself with some spare capacity, and therefore with airplanes to spare for its new Albanian partner.

Featured image by Olsi Shehu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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