The Kazakhstan government will release a tender for domestic airlines to bid for a subsidy for service to the U.S. from the capital Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana. The airline chosen will likely fly after 2021, Kazakh Civil Aviation Committee chairman Talgat Lastayev told AIN.
Lastayev said the committee would choose an airline with new aircraft and experience flying internationally. “The requirement depends on delivery of new [Boeing] Dreamliners,” added Lastayev. The apparent lead contender, Air Astana, has ordered three Boeing 787s for delivery around 2023. Air Astana operates as a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s national wealth fund, Samruk Kazyna, and BAE Systems, which holds a minority 49 percent share.
The airline is actively pursuing a route between St. Petersburg, Russia, and New York using fifth freedom rights via Kazakhstan. The plan follows with the Russian government’s decision to ease visa requirements for travel to St. Petersburg and its surrounding region for Indians, Chinese, Thai nationals, and several other nationalities.
Air Astana also has shown interest in flying to Tokyo starting in 2020, though it has not reached a final decision. The effort would encourage business connectivity between Nur-Sultan, which recently established an international financial center for the region, and Tokyo, Air Astana CEO Peter Foster told AIN.
“The route to St. Petersburg opens the door particularly from Delhi, from where we will soon start double dailies. It will be the jewel in our crown,” said Air Astana vice president of marketing and sales Richard Ledger.
Challenges associated with flying to the U.S. remain. The airline has begun working on operational details associated with TSA-required security at JFK Airport in New York, added Ledger, who also noted Air Astana could theoretically fly its Boeing 767 on the nine-hour route from St. Petersburg to New York. Needing to acquire fifth freedom rights from Russia, the airline sees an advantage in that no Russian carrier now flies to the U.S. from St Petersburg.
Meanwhile, Air Astana plans to sign a codeshare with the largest private Russian carrier—S7 Airlines—in Moscow on October 28, potentially opening further opportunities for expansion. Air Astana already has a maintenance agreement with S7 for its Airbus A320neo-family jets and shares fleet commonality with the Russian carrier.
Air Astana will become the first operator of the long-range (LR) version of the Airbus A321neo in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) under plans unveiled on October 9 at Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport. The first A321LR will fly between Nur-Sultan and Moscow. Expecting delivery of another three of seven on order this year, Air Astana expects to fly the LR to previously inaccessible medium- to long-haul markets including Prague, Mumbai, Jeddah, and/or Medinah.