ROUTES ASIA: Air Kazakhstan to Launch with Bombardier Dash 8-Q400s

The Government of Kazakhstan is backing a new airline start-up that will ensure domestic air connections are maintained in the Central Asian country and allow national carrier Air Astana, a joint venture with private partners, to continue its dramatic international growth.

A recent fleet renewal programme at Air Astana has seen the carrier retire its fleet of Fokker 50 turboprops, a move that has resulted in suspending some of its domestic operations as its smallest aircraft, the Embraer E-Jet family, is not able to land at some of the countries more remote airfields.

The country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev met Bombardier chief executive officer Pierre Beaudoin last week to discuss a deal to acquire ten Dash 8-Q400 NextGen turboprops to support the start-up, which will likely operate under the Air Kazakhstan brand. The two had previously held initial discussions at January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as part of a wider cooperation in air and rail transport.

"We must register the new company by May, attract an operator, and we already know who it will be, and buy these planes and deliver them by the end of this year," Umirzak Shukeyev, head of the Samruk-Kazyna state investment fund, told a news conference in Astana. "We will probably start flying early next year," he added.

The Samruk-Kazyna investment fund is the majority shareholder in Air Astana with BAE Systems and that carrier’s president, Peter Foster, has confirmed more information on the new business. “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 January,” he said.

“There are many domestic airports we cannot serve with our all jet fleet, and it was therefore imperative that steps be taken to serve these cities with modern turboprops operating to internationally compliant standards. Bombardier’s Q400 clearly meets this criterion,” he added.

Kazakhstan, the world's ninth-largest country by area with a population of just 17 million, is Central Asia's largest economy and the second-largest post-Soviet oil producer after neighbour Russia. Despite the country's economic boom, domestic routes remain dominated by older aircraft made during the Soviet era with five airlines currently offering scheduled services.

Although nothing has been formalised Air Astana and Air Kazakhstan are expected to be close partners and will likely offer codeshare or interline arrangements offering enhanced connectivity in, out and within Kazakhstan. “We welcome the decision [to form Air Kazakhstan], and expect to work closely with the new airline to jointly develop these markets for the benefit of both airlines, and of the travelling public,” added Foster.