Resolved on tapping the booming Central Asian market, global alliances SkyTeam, OneWorld and Star Alliance have approached Kazakhstan national carrier Air Astana with offers to join their ranks. In response, the airline recently commissioned U.S.-based Seabury Group to prepare a report on whether it should enter an alliance “and which one, because all alliances want us to join them,” Air Astana president Peter Foster told AIN in Astana recently.
“The year 2014 will be a big year for us as we will decide how to structure our medium-haul fleet,” said Foster. “Our first consideration will be range and then costs when we evaluate our options.” Over the past two years Air Astana rolled over virtually its entire fleet, replacing all its airplanes except its Boeing 757s.
Now the market leader in Kazakhstan, Central Asia, Southeast Russia and Western China, Air Astana remains concerned that by allowing other airlines into its network through an alliance the added capacity volumes could damage yields. “The devil is in the detail…It’s a lot of management time, expense and hassle…We may be there or may be not…[However], we are open to partnerships,” said Foster.
In its 2012 to 2016 passenger traffic forecast, IATA projected a 20.3-percent annual growth for Kazakhstan’s international markets and 22.5-percent increase in domestic traffic. Central Asia, a region bereft of carriers certified to IATA’s operational safety audit (IOSA) standards, has emerged as a major growth market that Air Astana appears uniquely positioned to exploit. “China is huge for us,” said Foster. “Even so-called small cities have the population of Kazakhstan...Anything beyond Chengdu is virgin territory. With only a few airlines flying [to it], we can fly dailies with an A321 and can also go farther west.”
The airline operates a fleet of 12 A320s, seven Embraer E190s and five Boeing 757-200s. It recently took delivery of two new Boeing 767-300ERs, ordered together with three Boeing 787-8s in February 2012. Plans call for a third new Boeing 767-300ER to join the fleet this year. It started more than 20 new regional routes over the past 20 months, giving it a total of 60. It plans to use the new Boeing 767s to replace aircraft of the same type on domestic trunk routes from the Almaty, Astana and Tyra hubs, as well as operate international services to Amsterdam, Bangkok, Beijing, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.