ROUTES SILK ROAD: Bombardier Demonstrates Q400NextGen to Air Kazakhstan

The Central Asian region is experiencing a demand for modern aircraft as older, less efficient designs present ongoing challenges to airlines given high fuel costs and heightened environmental concerns.

Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace has showcased a Dash 8-Q400 NextGen turboprop to proposed start-up carrier Air Kazakhstan in Astana this past weekend during which the prototype aircraft completed a demonstration to aviation officials and representatives of the media.

The Government of Kazakhstan is backing the 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.

An ongoing 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 earlier this year 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.

Umirzak Shukeyev, head of the Samruk-Kazyna state investment fund, told a news conference in Astana earlier this year that the carrier ”will probably start flying early next year”. 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. The region is experiencing a demand for modern aircraft as older, less efficient designs present ongoing challenges to airlines given high fuel costs and heightened environmental concerns.

“The Q400 NextGen turboprop is ideally suited for the geographically diverse regions in Central Asia,” said Ray Jones, senior vice president, sales, marketing and asset management, Bombardier Commercial Aircraft during the demonstration flight. “The Q400 NextGen aircraft is the most advanced turboprop on the market and has the speed and range required to service the Kazakh market with the highest standards of safety, reliability and passenger comfort.

“With operating costs that are significantly lower than other in-production, 70-seat aircraft, the Q400 NextGen aircraft offers airlines a distinct advantage. Importantly too, the Q400 NextGen aircraft has proven its capability in very hot, as well as extreme cold weather conditions,” he added.

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.