Home' Asian Aviation : AAV March 2017 Contents 40 AsianAviation | March 2017
Turning to the network, he confirms that “pretty much all” the extra
capacity being introduced this year will originate in Astana. The
capital will gain at least one restored route — to Kiev in Ukraine — as
well as benefiting from higher frequencies to London, Seoul, Beijing
and several points in Russia. A second attempt will meanwhile be
made to add Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, after a dispute over
traffic rights derailed last year ’s planned launch.
Longer-term, Foster says that Chengdu in China, Tyumen in Rus-
sia, and Mumbai in India are all being evaluated as new destinations.
Delhi in India may also be served from Astana — alongside the exist-
ing Almaty route — while Hong Kong
flights may switch from the southern
to the northern gateway.
Despite gradually ceding power,
Almaty last year gained a new link to
Tehran, Iran’s capital, and may soon be
connected with Tel Aviv in Israel.
Air Astana presently deploys three 767-300ERs, five 757s, 14
A320-family jets (comprising nine A320s, four A321s and one A319)
and nine E190s. It has orders for three 787-8 Dreamliners, eight
A321neos (four of them the long-range variant) and two A320neos.
Foster says two of the ordered narrowbodies will arrive this year
and three next year, allowing the 757 fleet to be retired by 2019.
The remaining five neos — including all the A321LRs — will arrive
in 2019 and 2020.
Far from winding down next decade, however, the fleet renewal will
only pick up pace. “It’s likely that we will want to be looking at more
narrowbodied long-haul,” the chief executive reveals. “ The A321LR
obviously is of great interest to us...we’re talking about an aircraft
that can fly up to seven-and-a-half hours with 150-200 passengers,
obviously with a much reduced trip-cost over widebody, but with
very similar seat economics. I mean, what more could one ask for?”
Management will decide about a follow-up commitment by April,
with Foster expecting “probably an order of another 10” neos. That
would see Air Astana “beefing up a little bit from 2020 onwards”.
It is not yet clear what an increased focus on long-range narrow-
bodies would mean for the 787 order.
“It’s likely there’ll be a delay to the Dreamliners,” the chief executive
says, hinting at a second postponement on top of the earlier deferral
to 2019. Asked whether the order could be axed, he responds: “ We’re
not in a position to be any more specific...we clearly need to under-
stand just how strong the recovery is going to be in Kazakhstan and
the Russian market before we make any further statement on that.”
Whatever is decided, Air Astana’s ability to turn a net profit in 2016
— its 13th consecutive year in the black — demonstrates the resilience,
adaptability and commercial savviness of Foster ’s team.
QAZAQ AIR RAISES THE BAR
Air Astana is not the only state-backed airline operating scheduled
flights in Kazakhstan. Two years ago, Qazaq Air, which is fully owned by
sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, began domestic flights under
the stewardship of chief executive Blair Pollock. The airline currently
serves 10 airports in the country from its base in Almaty, deploying three
Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s.
“ The main objective was to start a domestic carrier to link the
commercial centres of this huge country, connecting some of the more
remote cities and regions so that they benefit from the economic growth
that Kazakhstan has benefited from,” Pollock tells Asian Aviation. “ The
second key objective was to set proper international safety standards,
so we would be really doing what Air Astana has done over the last 15
years — and that is bring international standards of aviation and best
practice to this market.”
As well as going head-to-head with Air Astana on five routes, Qazaq
Air faces stiff competition from SCAT Airlines and Bek Air — the country ’s
two largest private carriers. A handful of smaller operators such as
Zhezkazgan Air also serve regional points with Soviet-era aircraft. The
government ’s plan, Pollock explains, is to gradually “tighten regulations”
in the sector, positioning Qazaq Air to “take up any slack” that results
from more stringent compliance rules.
The decision by the European Union to remove Kazakhstan from its
aviation blacklist last year suggests that progress has already being made.
But headwinds are strengthening elsewhere, primarily due to a sluggish
domestic economy and government cutbacks. “It is true to say that the
economy of Kazakhstan has suffered...with all of the commodity prices
coming down. And this has reduced revenues into the state’s coffers,”
Pollock admits. “As you’d expect in this privileged position of spending
public money to start a new airline, we have much greater scrutiny.”
Notwithstanding such constraints, the airline is pressing ahead
with plans to acquire two additional Q400s. Fleet expansion will dilute
the need to keep spare capacity on the ground in case of technical
problems, in turn lifting utilisation rates from 5.4 hours per aircraft
per day to above seven hours. A secondary base in the west of the
country — most likely Atyrau — is also being considered, along with
two additional domestic points (Zhezkazgan and Taraz) and potentially
the airline’s first international links. “ We talk about the recession and
the bad economic environment, but actually if you’re going to start a
business that’s quite a good time to do it,” Pollock insists. “In terms of
recruiting people, in terms of having access to available capacity...it’s
not a bad time to grow a business.”
It’s likely that we will want to be looking at more narrowbodied
long-haul. The A321LR obviously is of great interest to us...
PETER FOSTER, AIR ASTANA
23/02/2017 5:22:01 PM
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