Air Astana’s domestic traffic down as Qazaq Air bites into local market

Air Astana Qazaq Air Air Astana reported a 10 per cent traffic boost and a 17 per cent revenue growth in the first half of 2018, largely because of an improvement in the international sector (Air Astana)

Kazakhstan flag carrier Air Astana achieved a 10 per cent year-on-year traffic surge in the first half of 2018. From January to June the airline carried more than two million passengers, with 320,000 of them transit passengers, itself a 75 per cent increase on the same period last year.

However, it was only the international sector that enjoyed spectacular 22 per cent growth in the period. By contrast, demand for the airline’s domestic services effectively shrank by 0.6 per cent.

The increase in the share of international transit numbers, to 30 per cent, as well as an overall substantial growth in demand for international flights, was supported by the launch of two new routes: from Astana to Tyumen and Kazan (both in Russia), as well as added frequencies on several existing routes, including Moscow, St Petersburg and Kyiv. Fleet expansion contributed to the traffic growth, as did a code-share agreement with Cathay Pacific, which provides the customers of both carriers with exposure to each other’s route networks.

The growth on domestic routes was stunted by a combination of fierce local competition and rising operational costs, explains Peter Foster, chief executive of Air Astana. Despite that set back, the airline still managed to improve its overall financial performance, including a 17 per cent revenue growth in the period. “Passenger numbers continue to be strong for international traffic and network business. Domestic and regional routes face tough pricing and cost headwinds,” he adds.

Another state-owned operator, Qazaq Air, has been blitzing the regional market with its busy fleet of just three Bombardier Q400 NextGen turboprops. At the end of the first half of this year Qazaq’s traffic climbed by 55 per cent, having served 155,000 passengers, according to Russian Aviation Insider’s estimates. The airline currently offers services on 10 routes inside Kazakhstan, and its seat load factor is reported to have reached 90 per cent at the end of August. It also runs a charter flights programme to Issyk-Kul Lake, a major tourist attraction in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.

“This is all indicative of the fact that the demand for regional travel within Kazakhstan is growing steadily and we will continue to develop the routes where there’s passenger demand,” asserts Blair Treherne Pollock, Qazaq Air’s chief executive.

“Today we can say with confidence that, after three years in the market, Qazaq Air has achieved its main objective, which is to provide the Kazakhs with safe and affordable regional travel, especially in those parts of the country which have been underserved. We are continuing to move on and, next year, we plan to expand our own fleet and widen our geography by adding to our network those most popular destinations in neighbouring countries.”

Qazaq Air is aiming to reach an annual traffic total of 350,000 passengers, some 40 per cent more than last year’s 250,000. It is also planning to obtain its IOSA safety certificate before the end of this year, confirming its compliance with IATA standards.

Both Air Astana and Qazaq Air share a base at Astana airport, which itself reported a 17 per cent traffic growth in the first half of 2018, having handed 2.145 million passengers. The passenger growth has been aided by the nation’s open-skies regime, which was introduced in 2017, plus improvements to the airport’s ground infrastructure.

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