By Alexander Gabchenko
Air Astana opened transit air connection between China and Iran – a flight from Almaty to Tehran offers convenient connections from the CIS countries to Asia. “We are particularly counting on transit traffic from Beijing and Urumqui,” Air Astana’s senior vice-president for marketing Ibrahim Zhanlyel said at a press-conference.
Kazakhstan’s flagship carrier is putting Embraer E190 jets on the route, fitted with 88 seats in economy and 8 seats in business class. Before the end of the year, Air Astana is counting on carrying no fewer than 12,000 passengers on the Almaty – Tehran route, and is estimating traffic growth at 22,000-24,000 passengers for next year. About 60% of these passengers are expected to travel from Iran to China, and the remaining 40% – from China to Iran.
According to Air Astana’s president Peter Foster, transit traffic will be accountable for the majority of the growth in the near future. The carrier has already traced positive development in this segment. Whereas in 2015 Air Astana served an average of 500 transit passengers daily, which summed up to 180,000 passengers at the end of the year, the 2016 forecasts estimate the transit to grow to 260,000 passengers. In the next five years, the Kazakh airline envisions the figure to grow to 400,000 passengers per year.
To reach the objectives in 2016, Air Astana is increasing frequencies to existing destinations, such as to St. Petersburg from Almaty (from five to seven weekly flights) and Astana (from three to five), and from Almaty to Kyiv (from five to seven). The carrier is also considering relaunching the Astana – Kyiv service it closed two years ago.
In line with its transit development strategy Air Astana is not ceasing its attempts to obtain approval for flights to Ulan Bator. The route from Astana should have been launched in the beginning of June, however, in April Mongolian authorities revoked the approval they had granted a month earlier.
Kazakhstan’s authorities re-sent their application to their Mongolian colleagues. Air Astana hopes that due to the changes in Mongolian government following the summer elections, the new authorities will be easier to come to terms with. The airline is also counting on assistance from Kazakhstan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and the positive outcomes of the coming ASEAN Regional Forum, which will be held in Mongolia’s capital in July.
Ulan-Bator is an important destination, not only in terms of developing transit traffic. “There is a strong Kazakh community in Mongolia, and it is very inconvenient to fly to Kazakhstan through Moscow, Seoul or Beijing, as it stands now. With a direct connection the travel time would be at least 3.5 hours less,” Zhanlyel commented.
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