Travel Daily chats with Air Astana’s Vice President of Sales Worldwide, about the Kazakh national carrier’s future route and fleet expansion plans…
Q) With no EU restrictions now in place on Air Astana, what plans do you have to expand in Europe?
In March 2015 we will start direct services between Paris (CDG) and Astana. We will operate three times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays using Boeing 757-200. This will complement the daily services that we currently operate from Frankfurt to Astana and the three weekly services (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) that we operate to London Heathrow.
Last summer we also operated some charter flights for local (Kazakhstan-based) operators to Barcelona in Spain and Antalya in Turkey. Whilst this has not been finalised at this stage, my expectations are that we would do similar this summer, perhaps with the addition of a charter series to Rome. Last summer we operated the B767-300ER between Frankfurt-Astana during the summer months (May-Oct); we intend to do so again in 2015. The hopes would be that we could develop the other EU routes enough to support these wide-bodied operations as well.
We continue to operate six weekly services between Amsterdam and Atryrau (western Kazakhstan), predominately to service the extractions industry in this region.
Q) And do you plan to start driving more transit traffic between Europe and Asia, through your Almaty and Astana hubs?
International transit traffic via the hubs of Almaty and Astana is certainly increasing. This is primarily a result of the boom in regional to regional international traffic. In 2009 we adopted the “Extended Home Market Strategy”. Kazakhstan has a population of about 17 million people, however if you push boarders of Kazakhstan back a few hundred kilometres, this target audience swells to a significant 50 million potential customers.
Being placed at the ‘Heart of Eurasia’ the task is very much to operate in these historically underserved markets. The new routes opened in the region are testament to this. It is these routes where we have seen the greatest growth (for example accessing the labour markets between Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation or between Western China and the rest of the network).
We have seen less growth in the areas of big west-east movements from Europe to Asia for example (e.g. London-Bangkok). As we know there are plenty of direct operators with this type of offering.
Q) You are planning to welcome a new fleet of Boeing 787s in the coming years, what new opportunities will these open up for Air Astana (US, Australia etc)?
Potentially, yes, we would be able to operate to the US and Australia with this new equipment type. Given the market dynamics however, it is more likely however is to utilise these aircraft on the routes where we see the strongest current demand. Almaty-Seoul would be an obvious candidate given the strength of this market in 2014.
This year, frequencies on this route have increased from two to three weekly services and the operating aircraft has been upgraded to our new flagship B767-300ER type. Demand, even across the traditionally weaker winter months, has been buoyant, and it certainly stands out as a growth opportunity. Similarly we would look to our key EU operations to Frankfurt in the summer and Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in the winter to deploy the B787.
Q) And what cabin product upgrades can we expect to see onboard the new 787s?
As yet, this is not defined. Needless to say we would build upon the new heights in comfort we have delivered this year, with both the delivery of the new B767-300ER and the retro-fit of the narrow-bodied B757-200. The B767-300ER now boasts the award winning Thomson seating, with a six-foot flat bed in business class and 10-inch personal entertainment system. Similarly, economy class has seen new ergonomic slim seating installed with on-demand personal in-flight entertainment. Both cabin environments have been enhanced with state-of-the-art mood-lighting.
Q) And what further developments can we expect to see from Air Astana in 2015?
Air Astana is working to deliver a new product in economy class on the B757-200 fleet. Named Economy Sleeper, the product will provide additional seating space, improved catering and in-flight entertainment on key long haul routes using this aircraft type. It is scheduled to be launched in Q1 2015. Website improvements will also be evident with the re-launch of the corporate site www.airastana.com. The new site includes login facilities for ease of personal data storage/input, and improved functionality to simplify the booking procedure.