Start-up budget carrier saves Kazakhstan’s passenger business from stagnation

Overall, the country’s aviation industry grew last year, but local airlines contributed only a little to the improvement

FlyArystan Kazakhstan flag carrier Air Astana launched its low-cost carrier (LCC) division FlyArystan at the right time. Were it not for the LCC, the combined 2019 traffic of the country’s airlines would have remained at 2017 levels (Artyom Popov)

Although Kazakhstan’s airlines collectively enjoyed a timid traffic growth last year, it is primarily the flag-carrier Air Astana’s low-cost division FlyArystan which can take the credit for the improvement. Traffic through the country’s airports also increased in 2019, but the growth came mostly from foreign, not local airlines.


Overall last year Kazakhstan’s airlines collectively carried some 8.6 million passengers, a nine per cent improvement (or 700,000 more) on the results of 2018, according to the central Asian country’s Civil Aviation Committee. The growth rate is the country’s second highest in the previous five-year period, following on from the 23 per cent surge in 2017, which was attributed to the introduction of an open-skies regime at the country’s capital Nur-Sultan (then Astana), and to the hosting of the 2017 global EXPO-2017 event.

But according to the official figures, in 2019, the industry’s overall year-on-year operational performance improvement is primarily down to the contribution of just one airline – Air Astana’s low-cost division FlyArystan – which alone contributed the additional 700,000 passengers to the combined traffic total. Therefore, the nation’s other airlines of flag-carrier Air Astana itself, the privately owned SCAT, the state-owned regional Qazaq Air and regional Bek Air (which is currently grounded following a crash in Almaty last year) collectively served approximately 7.9 million passengers, the same number as in 2017.

In truth, Qazaq Air earned a 24 per cent improvement in the period, whilst Air Astana’s traditional operations remained level – which implies that either Bek Air or SCAT, or both, experienced the decline.

In the first months of last year, prior to the launch of FlyArystan, Kazakhstan’s air travel industry was suffering a downward trend, so the country’s relatively small market was virtually saved from stagnation by the introduction of the low-cost product. FlyArystan was quite well received by the country’s population against a backdrop of the devaluation of the national currency and a general decline of the population’s purchasing power. In 2019, FlyArystan sold around 400,000 tickets at fares priced below 10,000 tenge (US$26).

It is safe to predict that FlyArystan will continue to drive Kazakhstan’s commercial aviation in the future, with the LCC launching new routes and expecting the delivery of six additional aircraft this year. No other local airline, including Air Astana, is currently planning such a fleet expansion.


However, even FlyArystan’s contribution could not help Kazakhstan’s airline industry maintain its market share of the country’s air travel industry. Traffic through Kazakh airports in 2019 increased by 12 per cent year-on-year, reaching 15.8 million passengers, a figure which indicates that the share of traffic served by local airlines in the total number of passengers decreased from 53 per cent in 2018 to 49 per cent last year (52 per cent in 2017 and 49 per cent in 2016).

By Artyom Korenyako

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