Kazakh carrier Air Astana will remain with a twin hub operation for the foreseeable future, even though it entails “duplication of costs”.
Chief executive Peter Foster adds that the carrier has no plans — yet — to move to a single hub operation, given the way traffic is built around its two hubs.
Air Astana’s two main bases are at Almaty International Airport, as well as at Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan's Nazarbayev International Airport. This operating system, Foster tells FlightGlobal, is “suboptimal”, as it means having to base two sets of crew and aircraft at both airport.
But he quickly adds that it was a necessary move that should be seen in the context of how the country works.
Nur-Sultan, the newly-minted country capital is “more than just an administrative hub”, says Foster, while Almaty still remains its largest city with increasing passenger numbers. The latter city is also the country's financial and economic centre.
“The route network has to reflect the fact [where] people want to go and depart from, and our network has to be built around that,” he adds.
To this end, Air Astana is also working to minimise the duplication of costs. For instance, its head office is only located in Almaty, with Nur-Sultan being an operational base only.
A TALE OF TWO HUBS
While the bulk of traffic passes through Almaty, Foster notes that the airport is “severely constrained” by terminal space. The airline has been mooting for terminal expansion, but not much has been done.
“The problem is that Almaty is privately owned. The owners, hitherto, have shown no inclination for these past years to invest in terminal expansion, which is limiting the growth of Almaty as a hub.
“I guess it is limiting the growth of the Almaty region as an economic centre consequently,” Foster says.
It is a stark contrast in Nur-Sultan, where a new international terminal opened its doors two years ago in time for the Expo 2017 Astana.
The airport is also starting construction of its second runway, a move which Foster says shows “the expansion potential is there”.
Foster adds that the carrier's expansion strategy will not be a “binary question” of either Almaty or Nur-Sultan.
He points out Air Astana’s low-cost subsidiary FlyArystan — which counts Almaty as its hub — has recently inked agreements with Karaganda and Aktobe airports to establish bases there.
“We don’t see why it should be confined to two operational hubs of Almaty and Nur-Sultan.
“[If] an airport like Almaty is not able to meet the capacity that FlyArystan requires, it will merely go on and establish itself [elsewhere],” Foster says.