Since the tragic crash of a civilian airliner outside Almaty on January 29, the civil aviation of Kazakhstan has been under public scrutiny as never before.
In fact, the problems of the aviation industry did not appear yesterday, nor did they begin in 2009. In that year, Kazakhstan was included on a “black list” compiled by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The problems have been accumulating for 15 years. Challenges will always exist: The main thing is not to put up with them but to correct mistakes and continue to improve all processes.
In 2009, nearly all the country’s airlines were included on the ICAO’s black list. The ICAO experts noted a weak aviation administration that was insufficiently staffed. For years, the country’s aviation authorities were mainly involved in the solution of current issues, such as safety oversight, certification, and opening of new routes, while strategic objectives remained in the background.
Today, we are responding to advances and changes in technologies, equipment and flight operations. On the instructions of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, we are working on measures to eliminate the shortcomings and comments that the ICAO listed to ensure our removal from its black list. Working with international experts, we have already started to draft a strategic document, which will guide further development of the industry until 2020. The document identifies main challenges for the aviation industry, its market conditions and development map up to 2020.
We need to decide which airports will be developed as hubs. We also need to decide which aircraft we need for the market’s development and draw up a programme to revive small-scale and local aviation. All this will allow airlines, state agencies and potential investors to identify key development issues for the seven years.
We are carrying out this work in collaboration with ICAO technical experts, whom we especially invited to provide advice. Starting in early January, they have been examining our aviation legislation and assessing our compliance with ICAO organizational structures, staff requirements operating and procedures of the Civil Aviation Committee (CAC). The ICAO has also worked with us in preparing recommendations on the training of our employees.
Thanks to the recommendations of the ICAO experts about 40 amendments will be introduced in legislation. They will reform certification and safety oversight procedures, improve the status of aviation inspectors and significantly expand the CAC’s powers. A national programme for flight safety will be drawn up based on international standards.
Working with ICAO experts, we have also started to re-certify all domestic airlines engaged in commercial transportation and the aircraft they use. The ICAO experts singled out the previous low level of professionalism of the Civil Aviation Committee and their lack of sufficient staff.
To compare, Thailand’s Aviation Administration has 800 employees, Britain has 3,500 specialists involved in security alone. Kazakhstan’s CAC currently has only 54 employees, half of whom are not aviation experts. Why is this so? It is because the salaries that the CAC can offer are insufficient for any experienced pilot. They prefer to work either for airlines or airports and earn 10 times more than the CAC can pay them.
Last year, we raised this issue at Cabinet level and received great support. Then it was decided to increase the salaries of employees of the CAC to the level of the industry. We also intend to increase the number of specialists working for the Committee through the redeployment of personnel in the Ministry of Transport and Communications.
The Academy of Civil Aviation (ACA) is the only institution of higher education that prepares industry professionals. Early last year, right after my appointment as transport and communications minister, I visited the academy and talked with students and teaching faculty who voiced their suggestions and requests. Then, together with the Ministry of Education and Science, we drew up an inter-agency plan to enhance the quality of ACA training through 2015 and a strategic plan for its development up to 2020. All educational programmes and professional training of aviation personnel have been revised, and new educational programmes that meet international standards are being implemented.
We are also strengthening the ACA’s material and technical base. We are providing it with a modern cockpit simulator, training aircraft and teaching and laboratory facilities. Progress has been substantial.
In the past year, for the first time in the ACA’s history, 15 students were sent to the United States and Ireland to obtain international certificates. The Ministry of Education and Science has allocated funds to attract foreign scientists and to conduct summer flight training.
In September 2013, a sub-regional ICAO training centre for aviation security will open in Kazakhstan. The government is working with Air Astana to open a training centre for flight attendants at the Aviation Technical Centre of Almaty International Airport.
The ministry has been working to upgrade qualification requirements for domestic airlines offering domestic services. We studied international experience, and adapted it to our needs.
We have also cancelled the old system of free competition for domestic routes. Now the government identifies specific companies to serve domestic flight routes. Any domestic airline can now apply to serve any domestic route provided it meets the new eligibility requirements.
Under our new regulations, every airline company must operate its own offices and staff at every airport, where its passenger flights take off or land, and it must operate at least two of its own sales offices in two cities. Each airline must also have a certified staff that is engaged in bookings and ticket sales and that operates an e-ticketing system.
All domestic airlines must also qualify for an IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA).
All airports will also be audited by the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO). This year Almaty, Astana, Atyrau and Aktau airports are planned to pass their ISAGO audits.
The management of 11 airports, or air terminals, around the country will be incorporated in one holding company. This management model was tested in some foreign countries and neighbouring Russia, where airports are united by a single management strategy, uniform policy of tariff and investment. They therefore experience the benefits of integrated management. This year, the runway and air terminal at Kokshetau and the runways at Taldykorgan and Taraz airports will be rebuilt at government expense. Feasibility studies are underway to modernize the airports at Semipalatinsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Petropavlovsk.
The government is providing airlines with subsidies to maintain air passenger services to small towns. Last year, this programme subsidised seven flight services costing 800 million tenge ($5.30 million). In 2013, this subsidy was increased to 1.5 billion tenge ($9.4 million) and the number of subsidised routes was expanded to 10 out of the 43 existing domestic passenger flight routes. New services between Almaty and Urdzhar, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Kokshetau and Almaty and Petropavlovsk were added to the programme.
In 2012, 11 new international routes were opened after we concluded protocols, agreements and memorandums with several countries. This year, we plan to open 10 more international routes.
We have drawn up a new programme of rules for passenger services and will introduce administrative responsibility for all air carriers in breach of these rules for which they will pay fines in the amount of 200 to 1000 monthly calculated indices.
In 2012, the fleets of our domestic airlines were significantly upgraded and 16 new airliners were purchased. Today, 84 percent of domestic passenger flights are flown by Western-made airliners.
The author is Minister of Transport and Communications of Kazakhstan.