Since 2009, Air Astana had been restricted from commencing any new European flights. Now, based on the unanimous decision of the EU Air Safety Committee, the company will be able to increase the number of flights it operates to Europe. The decision also lifted restrictions on all airlines from Swaziland, as well as Cebu Pacific Air from the Philippines. Air Astana President Peter Foster said in a company press release that he was “delighted” by the decision.
“Recent lifting of the restriction on Air Astana’s flights to Europe by the European Union Air Safety Committee was a result of the hard work that Air Astana staff have put into ensuring that flights are operated safely and in accordance with best international practices,” Aida Abirova, Air Astana’s international public relations coordinator, told The Astana Times.
A press release on the subject from the EU Delegation in Kazakhstan noted that the decision was “based on safety progress which both the company has made, as well as the Kazakhstan aviation authorities, which are responsible for the safety oversight of Air Astana.”
All other Kazakhstan carriers will remain on the EU safety list, however, “until the authorities will have established a safety oversight system which is fully compliant with international standards and will have demonstrated that they are able to maintain such a safety system in a sustainable way.”
Priorities among new European destinations are Paris and Prague, Abirova said. “During the official visit of President Nazarbayev to Paris in June 2011, transport authorities of Kazakhstan and France signed a protocol on launching a new direct service between Astana and Paris three times a week. A similar agreement was concluded between the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan.”
New flights are expected to be put into operation in late 2014 or early 2015.
The frequencies of some existing flights are also expected to increase. Air Astana currently operates flights from Almaty and Astana to London Heathrow three times a week, flights between Atyrau and Amsterdam six times a week and daily flights between Astana and Frankfurt.
“Now, when our passengers can enjoy more direct flight service to Europe, we expect to make a contribution to the development of international tourism,” Abirova said. “Besides, we expect that the introduction of new international services will significantly increase the growth in flight connections and transit passengers. For example, in 2013, the number of international tourists to Kazakhstan grew by 113 percent compared to the previous year.”
Kazakhstan is in the process of developing its tourism sector and has a number of international events on the horizon that are expected to draw major international attention, including the world exposition EXPO 2017, to be held in Astana in 2017.
The updated EU air safety list includes 296 airlines fully banned from EU skies. Ten additional airlines, including Air Astana, may operate flights to Europe under some restrictions.