New Kazakhstan operator Qazaq Air could inaugurate operations as early as this week after gaining tentative approval from the country’s aviation regulator to begin domestic operations in the Central Asian country. The start-up - formerly known through its development phase under the Air Kazakhstan brand - has this past weekend taking delivery of its first Bombardier Dash 8-Q400 turboprop as it counts down to its take-off.
The airline will initially operate with a fleet of three 78-seat turboprops acquired via Abu Dhabi-based VVIP charter airline Falcon Aviation Services. The first aircraft was ferried in a predominantly white livery from the Bombardier factory at Toronto’s Downsview Airport to the carrier’s Almaty International Airport base between June 30, 2015 and July 2, 2015 via Vancouver, Keflavik, London Southend and Minsk. Airline decals are due to be applied to the aircraft ahead of its formal unveiling this week.
Qazaq Air has applied for rights to serve Astana, Aktobe, Balkhash, Kostanay, Kyzylorda, Pavlodar, Shymkent and Taldykorgan from Almaty International Airport but securing slots at the facility during peak morning and evening hours has been a challenge. It is understood that flights could commence as early as July 7, 2015 on the Almaty – Shymkent route, with operating approval also granted for Almaty – Pavlodar flights from July 20, 2015 and Almaty – Balkhash from August 10, 2015.
Through the Samruk-Kazyna state investment fund, 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.
The country’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev met Bombardier’s former chief executive officer Pierre Beaudoin last year to discuss a deal to acquire up to ten Dash 8-Q400 NextGen turboprops to support the start-up. 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 selected the Q400 aircraft because it has the speed and range required to service the long sectors in the Kazakh market, and has proven its reliability in regions with hot and very cold temperatures. In addition, the aircraft's cabin will provide a quiet, comfortable experience for our passengers, and our airline will undoubtedly benefit from the aircraft's excellent operating costs," said Blair Pollock, project director, Samruk Kazyna.
"We thank Falcon Aviation for providing us with their aircraft and for all their support in the months running up to this launch. We look forward to improving the air transport offering to the Kazakh people. Many of the 12 routes on which the Q400 aircraft will operate are not currently served by any other carrier. Qazaq Air - using the Q400 aircraft - will be connecting people and helping them benefit from the growth of the Kazakh economy," he added.
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.
This time last year, while the inaugural Routes Silk Road took place in Tbilisi, Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace showcased a Dash 8-Q400 NextGen turboprop to the start-up carrier in Astana during which the prototype aircraft completed a demonstration to aviation officials and representatives of the media.
The Samruk-Kazyna state investment fund is the majority shareholder in Air Astana with BAE Systems and that carrier’s president, Peter Foster, confirmed previously the important role that the new entrant would play in the local market.
“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. 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.
Although nothing has been formalised Air Astana and Qazaq Air are expected to be close partners and will likely offer codeshare or interline arrangements offering enhanced connectivity in, out and within Kazakhstan.
“Air Astana plans to sign an agreement with Qazaq Air, in which passengers can carry transfer with convenient connections between routing networks of our airline and Qazaq Air,” confirmed Foster in an interview with local media this week.
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 last year’s 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.”
(lead image via Skyliner Aviation)