Caspian Energy CEO: Could you please tell us about the history of Air Astana?
Regional manager of Air Astana Azerbaijan office Daken Shemet:
Air Astana was officially registered in 2001 and on May 15, 2002 it operated its first flight route Almaty-Astana. 51% share in the joint enterprise belongs to the Samruk-Kazyna National Welfare Fund JSC and 49% to BAE Systems PLC (British Defense Company). Today Air Astana operates more than 60 flights, including 40 international and nearly 20 domestic ones.
CEO: Does Air Astana have plans to create a low-cost airline or reduce prices on air tickets?
Daken Shemet: It is currently not planned to create a low-cost airline. Prices will stay on the same level due to the complex economic conjuncture. The issue of lowering prices on some routes may be considered depending on the season and demand. But, in general, no reduction in prices is expected so far.
CEO: How is the structure of air tickets sale built?
Daken Shemet: All our sales are conducted via global distributive systems. A greater part of company’s sales is carried through our partners. These are the accredited IATA (International Air Transport Association) agents. Nearly 10-15% of sales are carried through our offices, like, for example, in Baku (Azerbaijan), the cities of Kazakhstan and other regions. Also, nearly 10-15% of sales are conducted through our official website airastana.com. Our products - the flights with the number of seats and various classes, all tariffs from changed to nonrefundable ones are posted in the reservation systems. Thus, we have big network of various tariffs that are posted in the system. All our partners and our own sales have equal access to these resources. Depending on a client’s wish, he is offered this or that product. The client carries the payment, after which the air ticket is issued and a client can take a flight.
Thus, a preliminary reservation of air tickets is possible, everything depends on the tariff and the time left to the flight. There are campaign tariffs which are offered for a lower price and which must be bought on the same day. There are many factors determining prices. The price is usually higher close to the date of flight.
CEO: What plans does the air company have on transportations this year?
Daken Shemet: Nearly 3,000,000 passengers have been transported so far. In the beginning of the year it was planned to transport nearly 3.8-3.9 million people, which would be a 7-10% rise, but to the overall economic situation there are some difficulties in implementation of the forecasts. Let’s see how it all proceeds.
CEO: Does Air Astana plan to introduce new destinations and buy new airlines?
Daken Shemet: Naturally, we constantly analyze the opportunities for expansion of the routes. To this end we enrich and renew our air park. At the expo aviation Le-Bourget held in Paris in summer Air Astana signed a contract on supply of 11 new aircrafts – Airbus A320 NEO. They are more cost efficient, more effective and ecologically safer, they will partially replace our current fleet. In addition, we are planning to open new routes in 2016. The direct flight to Iran (Almaty-Tehran), as well as to Mongolia (Astana-Ulan-Bator) will open. In addition, I want to note that in 2015 we successfully passed the fifth IATA Operational Safety Audit, which means 1000 standards and recommended IOSA practices in all directions of the producing activity of the air transporter, including the organizational structure and management of companies, air operation, operation of flights and controller service, engineering and technical maintenance of airplanes, provision of flight security, maintenance of the aircrafts on the ground, transportation of cargo and provision of aviation security.
As you know, in 2017, capital of Kazakhstan, Astana will host the world exhibition EXPO-2017 dedicated to the energy of the future, which is so pressing in the light of the multilateral increase in consumption of energy by the fast-growing population of our planet, and Air Astana will be the official transporter at this event. The indicated memorandum was signed on August 17 between the chairman of Astana EXPO-2017 and president of Air Astana. Beginning from October, our aircrafts were equipped with EXPO-2017 marking. In the nearest future, all the 30 aircrafts of company’s airpark will be decorated with the EXPO logo.
Reduction of emissions into the atmosphere is also among the priorities of company’s development. As I noted earlier that at the recent aviation show in Le-Bourget, Air Astana concluded a contract on the supply of Airbus A320 NEO aircrafts with the engines allowing to reduce emissions by 15%.
Making use of the advantage, I would like to invite all readers to visit this exhibition and Kazakhstan, in general, in 2017.
CEO: A new air company Qazaq Air appeared on the market in July of this year. Do you think it will affect your passenger turnover?
Daken Shemet: We regard Qazaq Air as a partner company and are not planning to compete with them, on the contrary, we are viewing variants on transportation of passengers on our international flights by Qazaq Air. The agreement on partner cooperation may be signed in the future.
CEO: What are the technical features of your aircrafts? What is their wing time?
Daken Shemet: There are totally 30 aircrafts in the airpark. We operate three kinds of aircrafts. These are Airbus A319/A320/321, Boeing 767-300 ER and Boeing 757-200 and Embraer 190. They all have different features giving us competitive advantages. We can use the due kinds of aircrafts at different routes. For example, if the flights are long-distance, such as from Almaty to Bangkok or from Almaty to Kuala-Lumpur (about 7-8 hours), the flights are operated by wide-bodied aircrafts Boeing. These are Boeing 767-300ER and Boeing 757-200 used depending on the season. We use small Embraer planes for short regional flights and to near abroad.
As for the average wing time, it is no less than 6 years and this is a very good indicator by world standards. Of the newest airplanes this is Embraer – 190 with the average wing time of nearly 2.5 years, we have 9 of them. Boeing 767-300ER are our most spacious and, respectively, large airplanes. We have three of them and they are 1.5 years in average. Airbus A320 – there are eight aircrafts of about 2 years. Boeing 757-200, Airbus A321 are a bit older. We plan to replace them with 11 airplanes which we ordered in summer.
CEO: What period is marked by the biggest air flow from Baku to Astana/Almaty and back?
Daken Shemet: The traffic between our countries is mainly ethnic. These are the citizens who live here or in Kazakhstan and fly to their relatives. These are also schoolchildren and students during holidays and vacations. Therefore, a special demand is observed in summer and a slight decline in demand in November-February. This is a traditional seasonality. But we also observe a growth in business flow, the cooperation between the countries is developing dynamically. We are currently flying en route Almaty-Baku-Almaty thrice a week and Astana-Baku-Astana thrice a week. With the start of summer navigation we plan to resume the fourth frequency en route Almaty-Baku-Almaty. In addition, we also encourage transit passengers to use our service while flying from Baku in such directions as Beijing, Urumchi, Seoul, Kuala-Lumpur, Bangkok, Delhi and others. Therefore, I hope that the seasonal decline will be compensated by transit passengers.
CEO: Which campaigns, discounts and surprises do you plan for the company passengers in 2016?
Daken Shemet: We regularly hold campaigns and discounts in different times and depending on different factors. Today there are no exact dates but I ask everyone to follow our updates. Today Air Astana official is actively published in all social networks including facebook, twitter, instagram and others. We also publish our news, updates and amazing facts about the air company. Thus, we will always inform our potential and permanent clients about the developments.
By December 31 of this year we offer the passengers a free accommodation for the time of connection in Almaty. Passengers can learn more details about this campaign in the agencies of our city and in our office.
We also have a program of bonus award for frequently flying passengers. It is called the Nomad Club. It is a system of special preferences and advantages for frequently flying passengers such as registration of a ticket at the cost of points and increasing the service class. After the first flight any client can fill in the e-form on the website and get a card by the indicated address. Today there are three kinds of cards: blue, silver and gold. The holders of silver and gold Nomad cards get a priority registration and boarding, permission for transportation of excess baggage, access to the business-class waiting hall, etc. I want to add that we also have lower demands and add points from almost all tariffs and have extended the term of points action from two to three years. Thus, the points are accumulated faster and burn more slowly.
Other news: just recently we have launched the innovation service called MyUpgrade. This service allows the economic class passengers with the reserved or purchased air tickets to offer to Air Astana to raise their tickets class to business class. All passengers of Air Astana regardless of the way of reserving their tickets have an opportunity to visit a special page on www.airastana.com where they can check the flight and date for the possible raising of a class. If the service is offered on a definite flight, the passenger makes a bid and after processing the date the selected winner pays for his bid and gets a ticket in a business class. Certainly, the higher is the bid, the broader are chances to win.
CEO: How did you start working in this sphere and how did you become the representative of Air Astana in Baku?
Daken Shemet: I have been working for the company for five years. Air Astana constantly raises the professional level of its employees through trainings, seminars and effective evaluation. I started my career from financial department, department of spending. Having worked there for two years and a half, I decided to try myself in another sphere and transferred to the sales department. I worked in the department of sales on Kazakh market for nearly two years and always strived to become a representative abroad. I had attended the contests before, but in a different region. I did not pass the contest due to little experience at that moment. But when I gained sufficient experience and a baggage of knowledge, I tried again and succeeded. Thus, I got to work in Baku.
CEO: You work much, do you have time for rest?
Daken Shemet: Yes, I have time. I love walking around the city, along the Baku boulevard. In my free time I study the city, visit different parts of the city and see the places of interest. I also like playing chess. In my free time, I play chess with my brother who is in Astana. This is our old tradition and distance is not an obstacle because we play online.
CEO: Have you been anywhere beyond the city, in any regions of Azerbaijan?
Daken Shemet: Unfortunately, I didn’t have time yet. I have been here in Azerbaijan since September 7 that is for just a month and a half. Certainly, work takes much time. Nonetheless, I plan to visit the pomegranate festival in Goychay. I am going to learn the dates and get there for weekends, I think.
Thank you for the interview