Air Astana not guaranteed exemption from EU blacklist: chief

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Air Astana is warning that continued partial exemption from the European Commission's 'blacklist' is not guaranteed, and is pressing the Kazakh Government to address fundamental safety oversight issues.

Kazakhstan airlines fall under a blanket ban from European Union operations with the exception of Air Astana which, having successfully pleaded a case for special consideration, is subject to a partial restriction. This allows the airline to fly in Europe but not to expand its operations.

Chief executive Peter Foster, speaking at an event in London yesterday, said: "There remains the risk that, if key safety concerns are inadequately addressed, Air Astana itself may be swept up in the ban.

"This would be a disaster, not just for Air Astana, but for Kazakhstan aviation in general and, indeed, for the reputation of the country as a whole."

Air Astana's fleet is registered in Aruba and the airline's maintenance operation is audited by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, aspects which have contributed to its escaping inclusion on the EU's blacklist.

Foster says the airline has been "working with and, in many instances, guiding" the country's Civil Aviation Committee to address the concerns raised by an ICAO audit in April last year, notably in the crucial areas of air operator and airworthiness certification.

He says the blacklisting of Kazakhstan, in mid-2009, was a "huge and disappointing development" but that he was "not massively surprised".

But while the impact was lower last year, as a consequence of the economic climate, Foster says the ban has posed a greater threat for 2010-11 as the carrier looks to expand.

"We're pushing the CAC very hard," he says. "We hope this time next year there'll be a resolution."