Kazakhstan carrier Air Astana closed its flights from Astana to Semipalatinsk (Semey) and Uralsk and from Atyrau to Uralsk on December 1, 2012 as a direct result of its fleet renewal programme. These routes were served using its Fokker 50 fleet but cannot be upgraded to larger Embraer E-Jet equipment with the Dutch-built turboprops are retired due to infrastructure issues.
The carrier, a joint venture between the Government of Kzakhstan and BAE Systems continues to phase out its Fokker 50s in favour of larger E190 regional jets. Its six-strong fleet of Fokkers has already been reduced and the carrier confirms its last two examples are scheduled to be returned to the lessor in January 2013. During eight years of service with Air Astana, the Fokker 50 fleet completed 50,000 domestic flights, flew 90,000 hours and carried approximately 1.5 million passengers.
"Modernising the fleet is a strategic priority of Air Astana, with new generation Embraer E-190s having started replacing Fokker 50 turboprops on the short-haul routes over the past 18 months. The new aircraft offer our passengers more comfort and time-saving convenience to destinations Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Russia and the Caucasus”, said Peter Foster, President, Air Astana.
Air Astana up until this month has been using its Fokker 50s on flights between Astana and the domestic cities of Almaty, Kostanay, Kzyl-Orda, Semey and Zhezkazgan and international flights to Omsk, and Uralsk as well as between Atyrau and Uralsk. The domestic routes, with the exception of Semey in the far East of the country, will continue to be served with E190s as will the Russian city of Omsk. However, the flights to Semey and Uralsk have already been suspended as the airports there do not meet the international safety and equipment standards required to support E190.
According to Air Astana, the resumption of flights to Uralsk and Semey will only be possible after a major upgrade of airports to jet standard. “Air Astana regrets any inconvenience caused to passengers caused by the withdrawal of these turboprop services, but safety is our number one priority,” added Peter Foster.
The Kazakh carrier launched its Astana – Uralsk and Aktau – Uralsk services in April 2004. Air services to the Russian city from Astana will be maintained by Bek Air but there are now no scheduled links to/from Aktau. The Astana – Semey route was added by Air Astana in July 2004 after Air Kazakhstan collapsed.