|Founded||29 August 2001|
|Commenced operations||15 May 2002|
|Focus cities||Atyrau International Airport|
|Frequent-flyer program||Nomad Club|
|Parent company||Sovereign Wealth Fund Samruk-Kazyna (51%).|
Other Shareholder: BAE Systems PLC (49%)
Air Astana (Kazakh: Эйр Астана) is the flag carrier of Kazakhstan, based in Almaty. It operates scheduled, domestic and international services on 64 routes from its main hub, Almaty International Airport, and from its secondary hub, Nursultan Nazarbayev International 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". 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 a 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 System's chairman at the time, was instrumental in and key to the deal. However, the radar contract never materialised, and subsequent senior management changes and strategic reviews at BAE Systems led to the closure of its offices in Kazakhstan. Additionally, not withstanding 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.
In spite of a lack of support, 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 2003 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. 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.
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 airline has been consistently profitable and was listed in the top 20 most profitable airlines in terms of net margin in the world for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012, according to Airline Business and Air Finance Journal, which ranked it 20th in its 2015 survey of global airline financial ratings, with a score of BBB-.
In an article on BAE Systems' offset programmes (10/10/13) the Financial Times stated, "BAE’s 49 per cent stake in Kazakhstan’s Air Astana became one of the company’s highest-yielding investments".
Until 8 December 2016, Air Astana was the only Kazakh airline allowed to fly to the European Union.
Today, the Air Astana airline's fleet is the youngest in Europe and consists of 30 (as of July 2015) Western-made aircraft. As a result of the restructuring of the fleet and the replacement of all Airbus A320 and Boeing 767, the average age of the Air Astana fleet decreased to 6 years as of 2015. The company plans to expand its fleet up to 43 in 2020. In addition, the carrier plans to start flying to the United States with the arrival of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. At the end of 2016, the company's fleet was replenished first in the post-Soviet countries of the Airbus A320neo (Pratt & Whitney PW1000G engines). In January 2018, the company adopted the first Airbus A321neo in the post-Soviet countries (Pratt & Whitney PW1000G-JM engines). In June 2018, the fleet received a second Airbus A321neo. In December 2018, the airline's fleet was replenished with Embraer 190-E2 – first in the post-Soviet countries.
Activity in Russia
In September 2002 the airline launched flights between Nur-Sultan and Moscow with a frequency of 3 times a week and daily flights between Almaty and Moscow performed by Boeing 737–700. In 2014, the number of weekly services on the Nur-Sultan – Moscow route was increased up to 9 flights a week, and Almaty – Moscow flights up to 14. The airline operates 54 weekly services on 11 routes to Russia: Almaty – Moscow performed by Airbus A321 and Boeing 767, Nur-Sultan – Moscow, Almaty – St.Petersburg performed by Airbus A320 and Nur-Sultan – Novosibirsk, Nur-Sultan – Yekaterinburg, Nur-Sultan – Omsk, Nur-Sultan – St.Petersburg, Almaty – Kazan, and Almaty – Samara performed by Embraer 190.
Air Astana is represented in Russian Federation in Moscow city on Bolshoi Gnezdnikovskii pereulok 1, building 2 (Tverskaya metro station). There is also a ticket office at the Sheremetyevo airport (Terminal E).
Activity in the rest of C.I.S.
Air Astana has built on its geographical strength by expanding its network to cover all key cities of the region with short haul flights. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, Air Astana offers services to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Baku (Azerbaijan), Tbilisi (Georgia) both from Almaty and Nur-Sultan. Services to Dushanbe (Tajikistan) are currently performed from Almaty and will be extended from Nur-Sultan starting IATA Summer 2016 navigation season. Air Astana closed its last gap in the region in 2013 by launching services to Kiev (Ukraine) from Almaty with 3 flights per week. Since the launch of services, Air Astana has rapidly become a key provider for air transport to Central Asia and Far Eastern destinations from Ukraine.
The extensive regional network provides for access to all major cities in the region with Air Astana's medium and long haul flights from Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Istanbul, Frankfurt, London and others.
Activity in China
Kazakhstan neighbors China through its South East border with a flight time of less than one and a half hours to Ürümqi and under five hours to Beijing. The close vicinity of Air Astana's hubs allows for competitive regional operations to China. The fact that not a single European carrier is operating to Ürümqi, provides a strong competitive edge for Air Astana. The Western hub of China is served both from Almaty and Nur-Sultan with 11 services per week, offering connectivity to its entire CIS network as well as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Delhi, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Paris and others. The daily services to Beijing connect with the entire CIS network as well as European network such as Frankfurt, Istanbul and particularly London.
ICAO and the EU
The airline's international route development was heavily influenced by regulatory factors from 2009 until April 2014. 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, with the exception of Air Astana, 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), until the ban was lifted on 8 December 2016. Air Astana was exempted from the ban "...taking into account oral and written presentations made...." particularly the registration of its aircraft with the Department of Civil Aviation of Aruba, a Netherlands dependent territory, and its operations safety management programme as presented to the ASC. However, it was included on the ASC's Annex B, restricting its EU operations to the level of frequencies and fleet operated at the time of imposition of the ban in July 2009. The ASC removed the fleet restriction in November 2012 for the Boeing and Airbus fleet based on the airline's fleet renewal programme but retained the restriction on Embraer aircraft. On 10 April 2014 the ASC lifted the frequency restrictions based on the airline's safety performance, including Safety Audit of Foreign Airlines (SAFA) monitoring programme results, as well as continuing transparent communications. This allowed the airline to start planning for new destinations in Europe and increases to its daily service to Frankfurt from Nur-Sultan, its 6 weekly service to Amsterdam from Atyrau, and its 4 weekly services to London. The airline subsequently commenced service between Nur-Sultan and Paris in April 2015. The restrictions on the Embraer aircraft, which were the last to be banned from the EU, were removed in December 2015, and all Air Astana aircraft are now allowed to enter EU airspace.
Air Astana's 64 routes include most of the 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. Since 2009 it has launched services to Baku, Tashkent, Ürümqi, Tbilisi, Dushanbe, Bishkek, Novosibirsk, Samara, Yekaterinburg, Saint Petersburg, and from the middle of 2012 – Kazan and Omsk. Routes from Almaty and Nur-Sultan to Kiev were launched in spring 2013.
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 (28 August 2012) and Ho Chi Minh City (January 2013). In addition to its existing Almaty-Seoul services, Air Astana launched service from Nur-Sultan to Seoul in June 2015. Air Astana operates daily services from Nur-Sultan to Frankfurt, three weekly services to Heathrow and three weekly services to Paris (launched 29 March 2015). The European services are connected with Air Astana's extensive domestic services as well as regional services in South Russia, Central Asia and China. The airline launched a non-stop flight from Almaty to Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran (30 June 2016).
- Air France (SkyTeam)
- Air India (Star Alliance)
- Asiana Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Bangkok Airways
- Cathay Pacific (Oneworld)
- Etihad Airways
- KLM (SkyTeam)
- LOT Polish Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Lufthansa (Star Alliance)
- S7 Airlines (Oneworld)
- Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Ukraine International Airlines
- Air Baltic
- Air France
- Air Malta
- Air India
- All Nippon Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- Austrian Airlines
- Azerbaijan Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Cayman Airways
- China Southern Airlines
- Czech Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- El Al
- Etihad Airways
- Garuda Indonesia
- Georgian Airways
- Hahn Air
- Hainan Airlines
- Hong Kong Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Korean Air
- Malaysia Airlines
- MIAT Mongolian Airlines
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Philippine Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
- Shandong Airlines
- Singapore Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
- Thai Airways
- Turkish Airlines
- Ukraine International Airlines
- United Airlines
- Uzbekistan Airways
- Vietnam Airlines
|Airbus A320neo||4||2||16||132||148||Deliveries since late 2016|
|Airbus A321LR||4||3||16||150||166||Deliveries since 2019|
|Boeing 787-8||—||3||Deliveries postponed to early 2023|
Air Astana's fleet history:
|7||Transferred to subsidiary FlyArystan|
Service and branding
During the ATW's 41st Annual Airline Industry Achievement Awards ceremony in Washington, DC on 25 February 2015 Air Astana was awarded the Airline Market Leader of the Year.
Air Astana operates a 2 class service, Business and Economy, on all aircraft, and Economy Sleeper on its Boeing 757 fleet. The Boeing 767 and 757, as well as newer Airbus A321neo are equipped with the individual in-flight entertainment system supplied by RAVE in both cabins. On other aircraft it offers hand-held personal entertainment systems (「KCTV」) in the business class of all flights longer than 3 hours. Hot meals and alcoholic beverages are offered on all flights in Business, Economy, and Economy Sleeper.
In February 2015, Air Astana started offering a new class type: the Economy Sleeper. Passengers of the Economy Sleeper Class get a row of three Economy Class seats, turn-down service, Business Class amenity kits and KCTV, along with various perks at the airport, including access to Business Class lounges. The new product is currently featured exclusively on the Boeing 757–200 on routes from Nur-Sultan to London, Frankfurt and Paris, and from Almaty to Hong Kong.
The Nomad Club frequent flyer program consists of Diamond, Gold, Silver and Blue membership tiers, and has reciprocal agreements with Lufthansa's Miles & More and Asiana Airlines's "Asiana Club" programs.
Air Astana has recently opened its lounge "The Shanyrak", the only airline lounge at the Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport. It is named after the central piece (the "crown") in the roof of a Kazakh yurt.
Air Astana numbers more than 4,700 people. Despite the fact that the company directly hires staff for international offices, most of the employees are citizens of Kazakhstan. It employs over 500 pilots, about a third of whom are non-Kazakhstan nationals recruited principally in Europe. In 2012 company has introduced a general management training program at Cranfield University, England. The airline's cabin crew consists of over 1,100 flight attendants (Kazakhstani nationals). Its management is a combination of Kazakhstan and foreign nationals.
Number of passengers transported:
- Skytrax 4 Star Airline, 2010 to present.
- Skytrax World Airline Awards, Best Airline Central Asia and India, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.
- Skytrax World Airline Awards, Best Staff Service Central Asia and India, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.
- Air Transport World Industry Awards, Global Market Leadership Award, 2015.
- UK New Year's Honours List 2015, Peter Foster appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to British aviation in Kazakhstan.
- Tripadvisor 2018 Travelers' Choice Awards, Best Regional Airline.
- Five Star Airline Rating in the Major Regional Airlines category at the APEX Awards 2018 
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Media related to Air Astana at Wikimedia Commons