Air Astana aims for UAE growth as Dubai flights resume

The airline runs an Astana-Abu Dhabi service four times a week and has a codesharing partnership with Etihad.

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Air Astana wants to tap into connections through Dubai as Kazakhstan diversifies its economy into tourism and trade, and away from oil.

“There are a lot of tourists to Dubai and real estate investment in Dubai from Kazakhstan, and we are looking to attract a lot more tourists from Dubai,” said Peter Foster, the president of Air Astana.

In September, the Kazakh airline resumed daily direct flights to the emirate from Almaty after a four-year hiatus. The route picks up 20 per cent of its traffic from connecting flights.

That is higher than its global average of about 13 per cent traffic from connecting flights.

Almaty, in the country’s south, is the hub of Kazakh commerce. Astana, in the north, has been the capital since 1997. Air Astana is based in Almaty.

The airline runs an Astana-Abu Dhabi service four times a week and has a codesharing partnership with Etihad. It was also considering a flight between the city and Dubai.

“We could possibly look into starting a Dubai-Astana flight and if we do so, it will come before the expo in Astana in 2017,” Mr Foster said.

He was referring to Expo 2017, which is to have as its theme Future Energy.

Air Astana flies to 18 countries.

Air Astana in 2002 made Dubai its first international destination, but the service stopped in 2010 after Dubai’s civil aviation authorities imposed restrictions on the number of carriers allowed to fly between the countries.

The European Commission had blacklisted all Kazakh airlines in 2009 and imposed frequency restrictions on Air Astana after the national civil aviation authority failed the European compliance test. The restrictions on Air Astana were lifted in April.

“We are fully compliant with the international safety standards,” Mr Foster said. “But we always have to explain to people that we are a safe airline, and there is a perception problem that we constantly have to address.”

With the restrictions lifted, a deal was reached under which flydubai was allowed to fly to Kazakhstan and Air Astana resumed flights from Almaty to Dubai International Airport.

Etihad Airways and Air Arabia also fly between the UAE and Kazakhstan.

Hamad Buamim, the president and chief executive of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Kazakhstan’s attractions for business include its natural resources.

Last year non-oil trade between Dubai and Kazakhstan was valued at Dh862 million, making the country Dubai’s 98th largest trade partner.

During the peak holiday season of December and January, Air Astana plans to operate bigger planes between Almaty and Dubai. The Dubai route had a passenger load factor of 75 per cent, while the figure for the Abu Dhabi route was in the mid-60s, he said.

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