Kazakhstan’s Aviation Sector Aims to Secure Its Strong Position

ASTANA – The Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan (AAK), responsible for technical control and oversight of civil aviation safety and security in Kazakhstan, has strengthened its regional leadership and international presence over the years.

Catalin Radu, the AAK Director General. Photo credit: Aida Dosbergenova / The Astana Times

In an interview with The Astana Times, Catalin Radu, the AAK Director General, discussed initiatives that led to Kazakhstan’s removal from the European Union’s air safety watch list and plans to elevate its international aviation profile.

“We successfully removed Kazakhstan from the EC watch list”

Kazakhstan’s current aviation state is in very good shape, as assessed and established by international partners. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently gave Kazakhstan an 80% effective implementation rating based on its latest audit.

The country has successfully avoided a potential ban on its airlines flying to Europe after addressing safety concerns through a two-year government-backed program. The European Commission (EC) removed the country from its watch list on May 15.

“We were in significant danger of being added to the air safety list, which would have banned all Kazakh airlines from flying in Europe,” said. Radu. “Being blacklisted would signal that our airlines are not safe enough to fly in Europe, negatively impacting competition, passenger confidence, and international travel to Kazakhstan.”

Radu explained that over the past two years, the AAK, with political support, implemented a program to address safety concerns. 

“With full support from the Civil Aviation Committee, our vice minister, and the entire government, we successfully removed Kazakhstan from the watch list. We are now fully equipped to oversee aviation safety and regulation in Kazakhstan,” he said.

Radu believes that the socio-economic development of Kazakhstan will significantly benefit from the recent advancements in the aviation sector. The strong link between aviation and tourism will support efforts to promote Kazakhstan as a major tourist destination and facilitate market liberalization.

“Being off the EC’s watch list confirms that we are on the right track and builds international trust in the safety and security of flying in Kazakhstan,” Radu said.

Radu highlighted that this success was achieved through close collaboration with the aviation industry. 

“We share information with the industry and ensure control over our mechanisms to maintain high expertise within the AAK. Internationally, we are actively engaging in regional cooperation with Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states,” he added.

Positioning Kazakhstan as aviation leader 

Discussing the role of Kazakhstan’s aviation at the global stage, Radu pointed out that Kazakhstan aims to become a leader in aviation both regionally and globally.

“We experience growth like our neighbors in traffic, but in terms of the power and the maturity of the civil aviation system, we are the best in the region. Also, we experience high visibility because of the very strong participation and interaction with international aviation stakeholders. So, we are getting more and more visibility,” he said. 

Radu noted that the AAK is a young organization but has already hired more than 80 experts and significantly increased training for its staff. 

“Our goal is to build national strength while becoming a regional leader in Central Asia and the CIS countries, and a top player globally,” he said.

Kazakhstan was recently appointed as a permanent representative on the ICAO Council in Montreal, supporting its ambition to become a global aviation leader. To achieve this, the AAK has implemented a comprehensive program to increase the number of inspectors and maintain their qualifications through training. 

“We doubled salaries to attract and retain expertise, and we emphasize working in partnership with the industry to support its development,” said Radu.

Regionally, the AAK aims for a seat on the ICAO Council in the next assembly in 2028 through the Eurasian Civil Aviation Conference, which will enhance Kazakhstan’s political presence and influence.

“We aim to achieve FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Category 1 status and work closely with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European partners to ensure our aviation system’s maturity and readiness,” he said.

Radu also emphasized the importance of digitalization in aviation, noting that the AAK is in the final stages of selecting a partner to implement this process. 

“This will make us more effective and efficient, providing easier access to our services for citizens and the industry,” he said.

Commitment to airports’ safety and modernization 

The AAK prioritizes security protocols, often necessitating additional measures due to temporary potential threats. 

Radu emphasized that collaborative efforts involving various agencies, including the Civil Aviation Committee, Ministry of Transport, and intelligence agencies, aim to swiftly address concerns and enhance passenger experience.

“In addition to security enhancements, the AAK is committed to improving terminal accessibility. Significant investments are underway across Kazakhstan’s airports to ensure a seamless experience comparable to international standards. Electronic solutions and collaborations with international partners aim to facilitate travel, especially for those with reduced mobility,” he said.

Radu highlighted that critical infrastructure maintenance, such as runways and access platforms, is paramount for safety. And an aggressive investment program targets the country’s aging airport infrastructure, preparing for anticipated industry growth over the next five to ten years.

“Right now, we are experiencing a huge growth in traffic and we need to be prepared. Collaboration with the Ministry of Transport aims to address technical challenges identified through audits and assessments,” he said. “Government support for airport infrastructure investments ensures passengers receive top-notch services and connectivity within Kazakhstan.”

Radu discussed nationwide airport modernization efforts, including the recent launch of a new terminal in Almaty on June 1.

“Every new project faces challenges, particularly in the initial stages. Almaty’s terminal, designed for 2.5 million passengers, faced significant strain last year with over nine million passengers. Despite this, infrastructure operators implemented an aggressive investment program to address the demand,” he said.

He explained that the terminal was completed on schedule, with initial adjustments to ensure smooth operations and ongoing efforts are underway to integrate the new terminal with the existing infrastructure, progressing gradually.

“Overall, infrastructure investments are widespread nationwide, including recent developments such as the Karaganda airport for cargo. Local and central governments, as well as private investors, are spearheading these initiatives. Our role is to support them, ensuring technical compliance and prioritizing passenger safety and security,” he said. 

Clean energy initiatives 

Kazakhstan is committed to environmental sustainability aiming to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 through developing clean energy projects and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“When I arrived in Kazakhstan, the focus was primarily on the oil and gas industry, with little consideration for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) alternatives. However, there is a concerted effort at the highest governmental levels to transition Kazakhstan into a green economy. In response, we have taken steps to increase our visibility,” said Radu.

Upon assuming his role, he established a dedicated sustainability department, which works to advance initiatives in this area.

“In May, we hosted the world’s first international forum on sustainable aviation fuel, bringing together representatives from the oil and gas and aviation sectors to discuss production. Kazakhstan engages with international sustainability agendas, including signing a crucial agreement with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). We are one of the top countries in the world participating in this program,” said Radu.

Recently, the country also signed an agreement on Assistance, Capacity-building and Training (ACT) for SAF becoming the first country from the CIS to join this key ICAO program.

Empowering local talents and future steps

According to Radu, it is crucial to acknowledge and commend the government’s decision to incorporate expatriates into a sensitive governmental agency, particularly one as vital as aviation, especially for Kazakhstan. 

“While establishing the AAK as an agency and ensuring its efficacy is paramount, there comes a time when we must transit leadership roles to local experts,” said Radu.

“In pursuit of this goal, we have initiated comprehensive training programs for our local leaders, focusing on areas such as process management and aviation-specific skills. We facilitate their participation in internships and industry events to garner international exposure and recognition. It is essential that these emerging leaders are well-known within the global aviation community,” he said. 

Radu emphasized the importance of facilitating his colleagues’ integration into the international arena for future preparedness.

Discussing the future initiatives, Radu mentioned the first ever Aviation Cargo and Logistics Regional Forum on June 19-21 in Astana.

The development of cargo aviation plays a crucial role in modern logistics and trade and stands as a key element in Kazakhstan’s multimodal logistics strategy. 

“There is a strategic aim, supported by our president and prime minister, to position Kazakhstan as an air cargo hub due to our favorable geographic location and available resources. Our collaboration with the International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), the premier air cargo industry association, will address challenges and set the agenda for Kazakhstan’s emergence as a regional hub,” he said.

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