Air Astana has issued Airbus and Boeing with a request for proposals to provide new-generation narrowbodies for nascent low-cost unit FlyArystan.
At a media briefing today in Astana today, the Kazakhstan carrier's chief executive Peter Foster said the airline was considering either the A320neo or 737 Max for the new unit, set to begin operations in the first half of 2019. He did not divulge the number of aircraft being sought.
FlyArystan is scheduled to start flights with four A320ceos provided by Air Astana, but Foster says there is no reason that those aircraft could not be returned to the parent airline if Boeing was chosen through the RFP process, programmed to conclude in the first quarter of 2019.
"We obviously have high hopes for the low-cost airline, and we think it's right to evaluate both manufacturers at the inception of the carrier," he adds.
Foster does not divulge the routes that FlyArystan is set to operate, but does say that within two years it will have a "very extensive" domestic network from four bases in Kazakhstan. One of these will be in the south of the country, one in the west, and the other two "in and around where we live and where we sit" – a reference to Astana and Almaty.
He says Air Astana has taken a "strategic and management decision" to allow the low-cost airline to develop "in isolation", because there have been too many examples of parent carriers interfering in their low-cost subsidiaries.
FlyArystan will seek to operate early flights, at a high frequency, with quick turnarounds, adhering to a "classic" low-cost model, says Foster.
He sees "absolutely no reason" to confine the new unit within the borders of Kazakhstan. He also acknowledges that the business model accepts some "cannibalisation" of Air Astana's existing traffic.
Kazakhstan and the wider Central Asian region has been a "low-cost free zone" for many years, notes Foster, but this was "never going to remain so", he adds, noting the encroachment of competition from the likes of Wizz Air, Pobeda and Gulf budget carriers.