FTNnews.com presents interview with Air Astana’s new Country Manager for Turkey; Ms. Karlygash Omurbayeva.
FTNnews: Could you please tell us about yourself? How long have you been working for Air Astana?
KO: After completion of my bachelor and master’s degree, I returned to Kazakhstan in 2001. Except part-time jobs I was taking at the university and summer holidays, my real career has started up at the marketing department of the South Korean electronics giant LG Electronics. In Air Astana I am since 2006. Before my current posting I was responsible for marketing and brand development in the Head Office. I am extremely happy to be back to Turkey which I consider as my 2nd home country after Kazakhstan and proud of being a part of the industry connecting 2 brother counties.
Can you tell us about Air Astana’s operations between Turkey and Kazakhstan? How important is Turkey for Air Astana?
KO: We have 13 flights per week between Turkey and Kazakhstan and flying directly to big 4 cities in Kazakhstan: 3 flights a week to the capital of Kazakhstan Astana, 6 flights a week to the former capital Almaty, 2 flights a week to the oil cities Aktau and Atyrau in the Western Kazakhstan respectively. Because of commercial, cultural and historical connections between 2 countries, Turkey and Istanbul became one of the main destinations in the Air Astana network. Istanbul was one of the first international destinations Air Astana served after the establishment and it’s very important to maintain flights between 2 countries without interruption.
You are familiar with Turkish people and you speak Turkish fluently, how will be your strategy and promotions for Turkish market?
KO: Turkish and Kazakh people are close to each other in terms of family values, culture and traditions. Profile of passengers from Kazakhstan varies: mainly tourists, shoppers, students, transit passengers using Istanbul as a hub for stopover. Kazakhstan is recognized as an oil rich country and we classify passengers to Kazakhstan as business and labor traffic. In order to promote country as a tourist destination and attract leisure traffic we introduced special fares starting from 290 Euro Net return to Astana. A month ago we run 2 weeks promotion, 270 Euro Net return to Almaty. Due to the location in the heart of Eurasia, Almaty and Astana shall be used as transit hubs and Air Astana offers convenient connections via Almaty or Astana for those who travel from Turkey to Far East and other Asian destinations. Transit visa is not required for those who continue journey without interruption. Turkish citizens can benefit from the visa-free entrance to Kazakhstan and make overnight stopover between the journey to explore Almaty or Astana. We offer competitive prices to Seoul, Urumqi, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and other destinations via Almaty. New destinations such as Hong Kong, Ulan Bator, Ho Chi Min, and Kazan will be opened next year. Kazakhstan will become a good choice for easy and comfortable transit for passengers who had to make more troublesome journey to those destinations.
What is the biggest challenge you face in Turkey?
KO: There are people who still think Air Astana uses an old Russian-made aircrafts. That is an unreasonable assumption. Air Astana fleet consists of western aircrafts: Boeing 767 and 757, Airbus 321, 320 and 319; Embraer 190. We took delivery of 3 E190’s and 1 B757 during this year. In 2012 we will get 3 more E190’s (2 owned by Air Astana) and first 2 of the 6 A320 owned aircraft. The remaining 4 will come in 2013. This fleet restructuring will further improve the average age of the youngest fleet in the Central Asia. We operate A320 between the Turkey and Kazakhstan; it has 16 seats in the business and 132 seats in the economy cabin. We successfully passed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) for the third time and without findings. That is a major achievement. The airline performs maintenance according to the EASA Part 145 standards.
It is hard to change passenger’s habits and choices. For that reason we invite people to try our service first and make their own decision. In last 2 years Air Astana has been chosen twice as one of the best 3 airlines in the Eastern Europe by the Skytrax. Air Astana is the only award-winning airline in the Central Asia. Moreover, kid’s amenity kit distributed onboard is selected The Best Kid’s Amenity Kit at the Airline Amenity Bag Award 2010. Business class passengers are offered by portable entertainment system KC TV which is introduced in long and mid haul Air Astana flights. Business cabin of B757 is newly equipped by sleeper seats for comfortable long haul journeys.
Another challenging point is permissions and slot issues in Turkey. It was really tough to get W2012 permission and slots this year. We’ve been experiencing the same problems every year. Despite applications are made 3-4 month prior to the new season, due to some reasons either we have to wait until the last minute, or application is rejected without giving any reason or evaluation procedure takes long time. We are a designated flag carrier and such attitude of the local aviation authorities makes us sad. Ataturk International Airport is really busy and it is always issue to get requested takeoff and landing slots confirmed without changes. Provided night slots influence negatively both arriving and departing passengers. Some of them either have to spend more for the extra stay or those who want to use Istanbul as a transit point have to evaluate other alternative carriers and for sure these negatively impact our customer satisfaction.
Is there anything new and exciting news for us?
KO: The airline opened 7 new routes in 2011 and plans to open 8 more in 2012. Almaty-Hong Kong will be followed by Almaty-Kazan, Astana-Baku, Astana-Tashkent, Astana-Ulan Bator, Astana-Beijing, Almaty-Ho Chi Min and other destinations. Current fleet of 24 aircrafts will reach 33 aircrafts in 2013. Passengers from Turkey will be able to fly to the new destinations via Almaty and Astana.
This year Kazakhstan celebrates 20th Anniversary of Independence. Being a flag carrier and the airline operating under the international standards of safety and service we are proud to be the face of our young country. When you travel to one destination, your journey starts from when you step in to the aircraft. By providing the best service, safe and comfortable journey, demonstrating the real Kazakh hospitality, we will do our best to take you to Kazakhstan with best travel memories.
Taking this opportunity I would like to wish your readers Happiness and Success in 2012.Have a pleasant flight with Air Astana!