Kazakhstan’s government has started the ratification of the U.S.–Kazakhstan Air Transport (Open Skies) Agreement. Kursiv gave a try to found out when nonstop air flights between the two countries may appear.
On October 15, the document was published by the Kazakhstan’s Civil Aviation Committee (CAC) and it’s now under consideration by several state agencies. As expected, the law will be passed to parliament next year, where it should be approved by both chambers: Senat and Mazhilis. Then, after the signing by President Tokayev, the agreement will be set into effect. This process may last from six to nine months according to CAC.
«This agreement is based on open sky principles and it’s the first such document in Kazakhstani history. Under this agreement both sides can support air travel with an unlimited number of carriers, destinations and flights, including the right to take on board passengers, cargo and mail from third-party states,» said Ardak Utepov, acting head of the committee.
The agreement also allows carriers nonstop flights or flights with landing in a third-party country to take fuel. However, Kazakhstani airlines, which want to launch nonstop flights to the U.S., have to possess a certain type of aircraft. This is a requirement of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As Roman Sklar, former Kazakhstani minister of industry and infrastructure development noted, this kind of audit for local carriers might take about two years.
«For nonstop air travel between Kazakhstan and the U.S., planes like a Boeing-787 Dreamliner are needed,» CAC informed.
The cost of such aircraft depends on the specific model and might be in the range from $248.3 million to $338.4 million. Earlier, the committee informed the Kursiv edition that Air Astana (the leading airline in Kazakhstan) may purchase a Boeing’s Dreamliner in 2023. Now, the agency said that due to the pandemic and uncertainty on the markets, the purchase and supply of the new aircraft were shifted to 2025.
«Other Kazakhstani companies have no plans to buy such aircraft,» the committee said.
According to the agency, no air carriers from the U.S. have shown interest in nonstop air travel between the U.S. and Kazakhstan. However, if they do, they should acquire in Kazakhstan a special accreditation as foreign carriers. It takes about 20 days and expires after two years.
The Civil Aviation Committee assumes that at the initial stage such nonstop flights to the U.S. may require some financial support from the government. The size of such subsidies will be determined by the parliament while the special commission will choose certain routes. Only those companies that officially registered in Kazakhstan will be allowed to participate in this process.
As preliminary calculation shows, the Nur-Sultan – New York – Nur-Sultan nonstop flight twice a week would require about 7.4 billion tenge ($17.4 million) as annual subsidy. Given the ongoing pandemic, it’s hard to determine when this air connection can generate some profit. According to Air Astana company’s data, the passenger traffic between Kazakhstan and the United States in 2019 was 82,248 people, in 2020 about 14,000 people. The CAC also predicts that direct flights to the U.S. from Kazakhstan will increase the number of transit passengers (in particular, from Russia, Kyrgyzstan, China and India).
Currently, Kazakhstan financially supports only one international flight: Nur-Sultan – Tokyo – Nur-Sultan. The air travel between the Kazakhstani and Japanese capitals started in July 2019 with two flights a week by SCAT company’s Boeing 767. The ticket price for the flight was about 200,000 tenge ($470) in both directions. Last year there were 1,943 passengers, while this year just 808 passengers. To support this route, Kazakhstan’s government has already spent 1.8 billion tenge ($4.2 million) up to date.
Earlier, on November 1, 2019, Kazakhstan introduced an open skies regime for foreign air carriers at the country’s eleven airports. This regime will be in effect for three years and then can be prolonged. Under the regime, the number of flights is not limited and foreign airlines are allowed to take transit passengers on those destinations where Kazakhstani carriers do not fly.