KAZAKHSTAN IS SET
TO CREATE NEW DOMESTIC-SERVICE AIRLINE
Astana, March 13: Kazakhstan recently announced plans
to create a new airline to serve domestic routes that is expected to increase
the country’s population mobility and boost intra-regional commerce.
The new service will be called Air
Kazakhstan and is expected to include 10 78-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400
turboprop-powered aircraft, Umirzak Shukeyev, chairman of the board of the
Samruk Kazyna National Welfare Fund, announced recently.
The goal is to “register the company
by May … have the planes delivered by the end of 2014, and commence flights
early next year,” said Shukeyev, who offered no further details about the
plane-delivery deal with Montreal-based Bombardier.
The Canadian aircraft maker refused
to comment on the agreement. “We are currently in discussions with several
buyers in the region and are not committed to any particular one,” said Mark
Duchesne, a media relations contact at Bombardier.
The announcement of the new airline
follows a recent meeting between Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and
Chief Executive Officer of Canadian plane manufacturer Bombardier Pierre
Beaudoin, after which Bombardier was invited to open a representative office in
Despite Kazakhstan’s rapid economic
growth, domestic routes continue to be served by older aircraft. The
development of regional aviation is an important step, not just for
transportation, but also for the benefit of the population through increased
The fact that President Nazarbayev
and Samruk Kazyna, which manages assets in strategic national companies worth
tens of billions of dollars, are involved in the project, speaks volumes about
the level of the government’s commitment to increasing domestic travel.
“Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines are
two success stories where the government owns a majority stake,” said Dennis
Vorchik, transportation analyst for Uralsib Capital, Moscow-based investment
Over the past several years, the
Russian government has listed reviving local aviation among its key priorities
and has revamped local airports and subsidised regional air services. Russian
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev also ordered his government to improve aviation
in the vast country’s far flung regions. The result was a 14 percent
increase in passenger numbers in the first three quarters of 2013 and a 16
percent increase in regional flights. This totaled 8.5 million passengers in
the first three quarters of 2013, which was a significant improvement over the
same period in 2012 and previous years.
In what is seen as a major step
in the development of Russia’s regional aviation, state-owned Aeroflot
introduced Aurora Airline to serve the country’s far east. Aurora has four
Dash-8 Q300 and two Dash-8 200, among other aircraft. Aeroflot is also
launching its low-cost airline Dobrolet, which will focus on domestic routes in
Russia. Other airlines, such as Ural Airlines, Rusline and UTair have also
significantly increased the number of their regional flights.
“I have been working in Russia on
and off since 1994 and traveling everywhere by plane,” said Andrew Romeo, an
expat executive of a Saint Petersburg-based consumer goods company. “I use to
limit trips to one city because all regional cities were reachable by air only
through Moscow. Now, it is possible to leave Moscow or St. Petersburg for a
regional city and fly from that city to other destinations in the same or
neighbouring regions without using Moscow as a hub,” he said.
The new Air Kazakhstan and existing
Kazakh carrier, Air Astana, are expected to work closely on the project. Air
Astana President Peter Foster said in a statement that “Air Astana has been
involved in the discussions of the formation of a regional airline with our
majority shareholder, Samruk Kazyna, since we retired the Fokker 50 fleet last
Air Astana was established in 2001
and made its inaugural flight in May 2002. It currently operates an all-Western
fleet of Airbus A320, Boeing 767-300ERs, 757-200s and Embraer E-190s serving
more than 60 international and domestic routes. Samruk Kazyna owns a 51 percent
stake in the company with Britain’s BAE Systems, Plc owning the rest.
“We welcome the decision and expect
to work closely with the new airline to jointly develop these markets for the
benefit of both airlines and of the traveling public,” Foster added. Many
domestic airports cannot serve Air Astana’s all-jet fleet and the company
needed to take steps to serve these cities with modern turboprops operating to
internationally compliant standards. The creation of Air Kazakhstan will now
allow Air Astana to focus on international routes.
Five airlines currently conduct
regular flights in Kazakhstan with 28 more offering charter flights. And
Bombardier’s Dash 8 Q400 is not the only option available in this plane class.
Designed for mid-range flights (up to 2,430 km) at an average cruising speed of
650 km/h, the Canadian-made aircraft competes with the Russian Sukhoi Super Jet
100 (distance 3,048 km, speed 830 km/h, 98 seats), Brazilian Embraer 120
turboprop aircraft, the Czech L-410 prop engine and various other mid-range
No matter what the final make up of
the new Air Kazakhstan fleet will be, developing regional air service in the
world’s ninth largest country by land mass is likely to be a boon to
intra-Kazakhstan commerce and economic diversification.