Kazakhstan struggles to lift air safety restrictions

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Loss of the SCAT Bombardier CRJ200 in Almaty comes as Kazakhstan's government is battling to convince international regulators to lift restrictions on the Central Asian state's airlines.

Kazakhstan was blacklisted by the European Commission in 2009, with only flag-carrier Air Astana - which operates an Aruban-registered fleet - being granted permission to keep serving European Union destinations.

Civil aviation authorities from Kazakhstan updated the European air safety committee in November 2012 on progress towards reform.

Kazakhstan's transport ministry halted operations by all Soviet-built aircraft which were not ICAO -compliant at the beginning of November. Fifteen aircraft were banned as a result: one Tupolev Tu-134, seven Yakovlev Yak-40s, five Antonov An-24s and two An-12s.

According to documentation accompanying the latest European blacklist, the Kazakh authorities told the air safety committee that - under a ministerial order - no air operator's certificate can be granted until the country's regulators are able to "fully discharge their responsibilities" towards ICAO.

ICAO conducted an audit of Kazakhstan in April 2009, identifying two specific significant safety concerns in the fields of aircraft operations and airworthiness, and oversight weaknesses in other areas including air navigation services.

Since the subsequent EU blacklisting the government's overhaul of the aviation sector has included drawing up a new civil aviation code, adopting dozens of particular regulations, and establishing a flight safety centre while performing a recertification of operators.

Just five days before the SCAT CRJ crash the Kazakh government had highlighted the support it had started receiving from ICAO's technical co-operation division which is providing assistance with flight operations and airworthiness as well as air navigation safety.

ICAO's specialists were invited to Kazakhstan, says the ministry, to address the findings of the audit and to consult on "removing the restrictions" placed on Kazakh carriers.