Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has addressed the ongoing efforts to extinguish the forest fires in Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean regions, admitting that the country has not even a single firefighting plane in its inventory.
“The THK [Turkish Aeronautical Association] does not have a plane that can be used. We are working with 45 helicopters. Apart from that, the number of our planes as of today has increased to five-six. There are planes which we have gotten from Russia and Ukraine. And another plane will be used from Azerbaijan,” Erdoğan told reporters on July 30.
Erdoğan's comments came as the government is under serious criticism for not owning even one usable firefighting plane and instead leasing them from Russia.
Social media users have slammed the government for not owning even one single firefighting plane, saying Erdoğan has several in his possession.
Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) MP Alpay Antmen reported from the scene of the forest fires in Mersin, where he said Erdoğan has 13 planes in his possession, while no firefighting plane has been utilized in Mersin.
CHP Mersin Milletvekili Alpay Antmen: Sarayda 13 tane uçağı olanlara sesleniyorum; şurada bir tane yangın söndürme uçağı yok pic.twitter.com/jgHl2pe8TF— Yol TV (@YolTV) July 29, 2021
Earlier reports said that Turkey had leased three airplanes from Russia for 1.3 million liras per day.
Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said that his ministry does not own any firefighting aircraft itself and that instead, it uses the planes of the THK.
"In our inventory, we do not have any firefighting plane or helicopter. This has always been the case. We have launched works for the purchase of planes to our inventory with the instruction of our President. The supplier of the current planes is the THK," Pakdemirli said.
The government has long been in a cooperation with the THK by hiring their firefighter planes, but none of the organization's planes are currently said to be operational amid a lack of sufficient maintenance and protection.
The appointed trustee of the THK board, Cenap Aşçı said on July 30 that there was a need of 4 million liras worth of investment to get idles planes sitting in the THK hangars running.
Minister Pakdemirli denied allegations of conflict with the THK, saying the reason why it has not been using the entity's planes is because they were not in a good condition.
Pakdemirli said that his ministry had been paying 120-130 million euros to the THK every year for the past 15-20 years, with which the entity “could have renewed the planes.”
“They [THK] are saying that they cannot renew the planes due to financial problems, but they could have renewed tha planes instead of using the money in other places. Since the planes are not renewed, they create problems. For example, three years ago, there was a plane [of THK] which landed on the water but could not take off again,” Pakdemirli told Habertürk columnist Nagehan Alçı on July 30.
“So, we have moved on to helicopters and leasing planes from abroad. We have no problems with the THK, why should we?” Pakdemirli said.
A former executive of the THK reacted against Pakdemirli's statements, saying out of the nine planes of the organization, six are ready to be used.
Bayram Duman, the former head of the THK Central Board of Inspection, told Deutsche Welle Turkish that the organization's planes are currently able to fly and will function for many years to come.
“We have nine planes, out of which six are ready. Why should they not fly? Our planes are not antique. They are in good condition, we call them 'Birds of Fire,'” he said, adding that the fires would not have spread so extensively if the THK's planes were utilized.
Meanwhile, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said that the THK has been "destroyed at the hands of the trustee." "The planes are sitting idly, the pilots have been fired," Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding that he had suggested another model.
Türk Hava Kurumu kayyum elinde yok oldu. Uçaklar yatıyor, pilotlar işinden oldu. Yeni bir iş modeli önerdim; bu uçakları belediyelerimizin kiralamasına ve pilotlar ile teknisyenleri istihdam etmesine izin versinler, yangınlara derhal biz müdahale edelim.— Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (@kilicdarogluk) July 30, 2021
Thousands of firefighters are battling wildfires in villages and resorts on Turkey's Mediterranean and Aegean coasts.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) said on July 30 that the death toll from wildfires has risen to four, with three losing their lives in Antalya and one in Muğla.
An investigation has been launched to determine if some of the fires were a result of arson.
During a visit to Manavgat, Minister Pakdemirli said bringing the fires under control might take time.