||This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2012)|
|Commenced operations||15 May 2002|
|Frequent-flyer program||Nomad Club|
|Company slogan||From the Heart of Eurasia|
|Parent company||Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk Kazyna: 51%, BAE Systems PLC: 49%|
Air Astana (Эйр Астана) is the principal airline and the flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan, based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It operates scheduled domestic and international services on 62 routes from its main hub, Almaty International Airport, and from its 2 secondary hubs, Astana International Airport and Atyrau Airport. It is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna (51%), and BAE Systems PLC (49%). It was incorporated in October 2001 and started commercial flights on 15 May 2002.
Air Astana was described by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation in January 2012 as having “performed better in its first decade than just about any other start-up carrier” (CAPA, Airline Analysis, 9 January 2012). Yet its origins represent one of the more intriguing and unlikely stories to have emerged from the airline industry in recent times. Originally conceived as purely domestic airline, BAE Systems agreed in mid-2001 to participate in the proposed start-up at the request of Kazakhstan’s head of state, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in order to facilitate an air radar contract it was then negotiating with the Government of Kazakhstan. Sir Richard Evans, BAE Systems’ chairman at the time, was instrumental in and key to the deal. However, the radar contract never materialized, and subsequent senior management changes and strategic reviews at BAE Systems led to the closure of its offices in Kazakhstan. Additionally, notwithstanding the support of Nazarbayev and a number of close advisors, the start-up, initially seen as a foreign entity, was confronted with immediate and vocal opposition from many elements of Kazakhstan’s media and political establishment.
May 2002 – September 2005 
In spite of these gloomy auguries the airline took off on the charge. Under its first operational president, former British Airways executive Lloyd Paxton (there had been a brace of short-lived pre-operational incumbents), it leased its first 3 Boeing 737s from International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) and commenced Commercial operations on 15 May 2002 . in late 2002 Fokker 50s were leased from Aircraft Finance Trading BV (AFT) and 3 Boeing 757s from Pegasus Leasing Corp. It declared a net profit in 2003, its first full year of operations, beginning a run of profitability unbroken since then (For 2010 and 2011 it was listed in Airline Business as the 15th most profitable airline in the world in terms of net margin). Upon the bankruptcy of the previous flag carrier Air Kazakhstan in February 2004, it moved quickly to expand from its domestic network to key international routes to Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow and Beijing, followed by Frankfurt and London.
October 2005 – present 
Early growth pains and disagreements over fleet plans and hub strategy led to tensions between the shareholders and a management change in autumn 2005. Peter Foster, a former executive of Cathay Pacific Airways who had led the rehabilitation team at Philippine Airlines in 1999 before a spell as CEO at Royal Brunei Airlines, was appointed as the airline’s president on 1 October 2005. Long-term development plans and management structures were established that have remained largely unchanged since then.
The Air Astana fleet consists of the following aircraft (as of May 2013 - fleet)
|Airbus A320-232||7||2||16||132||148||1 in fleet + 2 on order equipped with sharklets.|
|Boeing 757-200||5||—||16||150||166||Equipped with winglets, two to be replaced by Boeing 767-300ER|
|Boeing 767-300ER||2||3||28||190||218||TBD in 2013-2014. Will replace 757s and 767s.|
|Boeing 787-8||—||3||TBA||TBD in 2017, 2019|
|Embraer 190||7||1||9||88||97||TBD in the second quarter of 2012.|
Air Astana’s 62 destinations include most major cities in Kazakhstan and an increasing number of neighboring Central Asian and Russian cities. The latter is the result of a decision to implement what its managers refer to as an “extended home market strategy”, to leverage its reputation for high standards of service and air safety compliance in the region’s growing air transport markets. Thus since 2009 it has launched services to Baku, Tashkent, Urumqi, Tbilisi, Dushanbe, Bishkek, Novosibirsk, Samara, Yekaterinburg, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, Orenburg and Omsk. Its long haul growth has been towards south and east Asia, with flights to Delhi, Seoul (operated in code share with Asiana Airlines), Beijing, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City. It also flies to Abu Dhabi in code share with Etihad Airways (EY).
ICAO and the EU 
The airline’s international route development has been heavily influenced by regulatory factors beyond its control. In April 2009, an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), found the Kazakhstan Civil Aviation Committee (CAC) to be non-compliant in key areas of regulatory oversight. This resulted in a blanket ban of all Kazakhstan-registered airlines from flying to, from or within the European Union by the EU’s Air Safety Committee (ASC). Air Astana was the sole exception, exempted from the ban on account of its unique (for its region) structure and regulatory framework, including its European EASA 145 aircraft engineering license, the registration of its aircraft with the Department of Civil Aviation of Aruba, a Netherlands dependent territory, and its IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registration. However it was, and remains, included on the ASC’s Annex B, restricting its EU operations to the level of frequencies operated at the time of imposition of the ban in July 2009. Since then no follow-up ICAO audit of the CAC has taken place, resulting in subsequent meetings of the ASC electing to retain the status quo. Therefore the airline has been unable to add to its daily service to Frankfurt from Astana, its 6 weekly service to Amsterdam from Atyrau (operated in code share with KLM), and its twice weekly service to London from Almaty.
Service and Branding 
Air Astana operates a 2 class service, Business and Economy, on all aircraft other than its Fokker 50s, and has installed semi-flat “Sleeper Business Class” seats on its fleet of Boeing 757s and 767s. It offers hand-held personal entertainment systems (“KCTV”) in the business class of all flights longer than 3 hours. It offers hot meals and alcoholic beverages on all flights in both Business and Economy Class, other than those operated by its Fokker 50s. Its “Nomad” frequent flyer club consists of Gold, Silver and Standard membership tiers, and has a reciprocal agreement with Lufthansa’s “Miles & More” program. A new uniform for cabin and ground staff, designed by local Kazakh designers, will be introduced in May 2012 to coincide with the airline’s 10th anniversary. Moreover, following an audit conducted by Skytrax in May 2012, the airline became the first carrier from Russia /CIS /Eastern Europe to be awarded the prestigious 4-Star rating in the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2012. At the awards ceremony held at the Farnborough Air Show in 2012, the airline was also awarded “Best Airline, Central Asia and India”.
At January 2012 Air Astana employed 3512 people, mostly in Kazakhstan, though it directly employs people at most of its overseas stations. It employs 320 pilots, about a third of whom are non-Kazakhstan nationals recruited principally in Europe. It operates a cadet pilot training program for Kazakhstan nationals on the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in Melbourne, Florida. It operates an engineering training program at the Airline Technical Centre (ATC), Lasham, England, together with the University of Bristol. It plans to introduce a general management training program at Cranfield University, England, in mid-2012. It employs 900 mostly female cabin staff, all of whom are Kazakhstan nationals. Its management is a combination of Kazakhstan and foreign nationals, many of whom have been with the airline for the majority of its life, some of whom were present at the start of its operations in May 2002. In May 2012, it also launched a highly successful aviation English training program for its cadet pilots.
The Future 
In early 2011 the Government of Kazakhstan announced a program of “Peoples’ IPOs”, to list a portion of the shares of some of the country’s leading national companies through Initial Public Offerings on the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange (KASE), in mid to late 2012. Air Astana was selected to be amongst the first to be listed on account of its consistent record of growth and profitability and because of its corporate governance standards (rated GAMMA 6 by Standard & Poor’s in 2011). As of February 2012 details remain to be defined, in particular changes to the shareholding structure, which has been in place since the birth of the airline, but which will have to change if a public listing is to take place.
- "Head Office." Air Astana. Retrieved on 21 December 2010. "Registered office 4A, Zakarpatskaya Street, Almaty, 050039, Kazakhstan"
- "AIR ASTANA is named the Best Airline in Central Asia / India at the 2012 World Airline Awards held at Farnborough Air Show". World Airline Awards. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
- Air Astana announces $1.3 billion 767-787 order, retrieved Feb. 10, 2012.
- Website, Boeing. "767 Model Summary". Boeing Company. Retrieved 12/6/12.
- Air Astana takes delivery of first Embraer 190, retrieved Feb. 10, 2012.
- Air Astana expands regional routes in Central Asia, retrieved Feb. 10, 2012.
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