An Interview with Air Astana’s UK senior Regional Manager: Richard Ledger

Air Astana is Kazakhstan’s national airline and the largest in Central Asia. They operate a number of routes from the Country’s capital and Kazakhstan’s largest city to destinations such as Seoul and London. Richard Ledger is the airline’s senior regional manager at its UK base. Join me as I put some questions to the man himself…

How are you lessening the environmental impact of Air Astana’s aircraft?

“Reducing our environmental impact and developing initiatives to avoid or reduce man-made
climate change sits at the heart of Air Astana’s environmental management approach, alongside
ensuring that we provide for the safety and health of our employees, customers, and contractors.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a major contributor to climate change, are a byproduct of air
travel. At Air Astana, however, we are taking measures to minimize our GHG emissions and
reduce our carbon footprint. We are investing in a fleet of modern and fuel-efficient aircraft that
emits less carbon: our aircraft’s average age is 4.9 years, making us one of the youngest
fleets globally. But we go one step further, ensuring that all our pilots are trained in fuel-efficient
flying, like single-engine taxis for example, which further helps to reduce emissions.

In 2021, we continued with our plans to transfer our in-flight products to biodegradable materials:
switching from plastic to wood for our drink stirrers and toothpicks; substituting onboard plastic
cups with recyclable plastic ones. We have also changed the packaging of our amenity kits to
bamboo and kraft paper, and are gradually replacing items in the kits with more eco-friendly
products.

Air Astana’s Up-cycling for the Future is a recently launched project for creatively recycling used
aircraft parts. Decommissioned spares from Boeing 767 and Airbus A320 aircraft, including
nose cones, luggage compartment lids, seat frames, and other cabin furnishings, have been
transformed into a unique collection of furniture and interior decorations.”

Air Astana launched their Up-Cycling project in which they turn aircraft parts into furniture (credit: Informburo.kz)

What lessons has Air Astana learned from the Pandemic?

“It goes without saying that the pandemic had a catastrophic impact on airlines globally. Some
airlines, including Air Astana, have however emerged from the crisis in significantly leaner and
more efficient shape than before. The aviation playbook calls for an immediate reduction in costs
in such a crisis, which we did. But where some airlines dismissed staff and cut the quality of the
service offering, Air Astana looked at it in a different way.

Staff were placed on ‘down-time’ for a short period, but aside from a few foreign contract pilots, all staff were retained. It was clear to us that empathetic staffing was to be pivotal in any recovery. Similarly, many airlines cut the level of service and specifically catering onboard. We didn’t, and in many cases upgraded it, and our customers have told us the importance of that decision.


Air Astana was agile during the period of the pandemic. Our B767-300ER were converted to
semi-freighters to carry PPE and medical supplies at the outset; and rapidly converted back in
time for when passenger demand returned to the market. We adopted a highly entrepreneurial
approach, building business cases for new routes and launching them in a matter of weeks on
occasions. Driven by where travel restrictions were weakest, and pent up demand would be
strongest, we opened new routes to destinations where we had never operated to before such
as the Maldives, Montenegro, Egypt, Sri-Lanka and Cyprus to name a few.


We do recognize that the strength of our domestic market within Kazakhstan, and the
stimulation of this market by the creation of our LCC brand FlyArystan, were fortunate in timing
and provided for a constant revenue base whilst some countries worldwide slowly re-opened
their borders.


Importantly, Air Astana maintained its financial independence throughout the whole period of the
crisis. Where most of the world’s airlines received state aid in one form or other, Air Astana
neither requested it nor benefited from it. In fact, since the initial funding injected into the company 20 year ago (US$17 million) all of the company’s growth has been self-financed either
through operating revenues generated, or on the open finance market. With the company now
standing at as a billion-dollar turnover company, we are incredibly proud of these achievements.”

Air Astana’s LCC brand FlyArystan has begun to prosper in the wake of the pandemic (Image credit: ch-aviation)

Is the Russo-Ukrainian war affecting your business and if so how?

“Yes and the impacts are sizable. Our initial concentration was towards the safety our staff
based in Kyiv and the few thousand Kazakh nationals living and working in Ukraine. To this
extent, on the 22 February 2022, just days before the outbreak of hostilities, our President and
CEO, Peter Foster, traveled to Ukraine, to personally organize repatriation to Kazakhstan via a
pseudo hub set up in Katowice, Poland. Our repatriation expertise, honed during the pandemic,
meant that we operated numerous flights and effectively achieved our objections.


Russia was Air Astana’s largest overseas market before the conflict. The raft of sanctions
bought in by the US and Europe in the wake of the invasion required a full and complete audit of
our Russian suppliers to ensure compliance. This squeeze on potential Russian suppliers and
insurance concerns contributed to our decision to cease all operations between Kazakhstan and Russia in Spring 2022. We also do not use Russian airspace very much for the same
reasons; and as such now detour our European routes further south over the Caucus, Turkey
and Central Europe. This detour influences the economic performance of these flights; although
a tech-stop in Aktau on the route between Almaty and London does now open the opportunity to
British adventure tourists to stop in western-Kazakhstan and visit the wonderful region of
Mangystau!”

(Image credit: Bloomberg.com)

Air Astana reported 2022 to be its best-ever year, what do you thing attributed to such success?

“Capacity management has been fundamental to the airlines success in 2022. Where capacity
has been in excess of demand, this has been optimized; where strong demand has materialized
additional capacity has been deployed. These general management principles, along with cost
control and process digitization, are very much at the core of the airline.

Our LCC Brand, FlyArystan has been particularly buoyant in this post-pandemic period growing
366% in 2022, to 3.2 million passengers. It’s transformed mobility within Kazakhstan with its
innovative approach and is now one of the fastest growing airlines on the planet.
We have been able to identify relevant socio-economic trends, like remote working (digital
nomads), and leveraged this to create our Lifestyle Airline brand; inspiring our customers to
travel and re-balance their personal lives working remotely from overseas. This positioning, in
addition to our highly regarded in-flight product and service, has seen summer routes to Antalya
extended year round for example.


A consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that Russian carriers are restricted from
operating to Europe. For obvious reasons Ukraine International Airlines are not currently operating. So,
from this European perspective, some of the hitherto competitive pressure has eased.
Following the Russian army mobilization announcement in September 2022, strong demand
was particularly evident across our domestic and international network. During 2022 flights
between China and Kazakhstan remained under frequency restriction. This provided robust
yields and has paved the way to frequency increases in 2023. The re-opening of flights to India
at the end of 2021, and further frequency increases, has provided critical feed to the
international network.”

In Late 2022, Air Astana announced the lease of 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, why was this decision made?

“The B787-9 is a direct replacement for our current wide-bodied fleet of three B767-300ER.
Larger in capacity, the B787-9 will allow for market development on the routes currently
operated by the B767-300ER, when it arrives in Q1 2025. The longer range does open the
possibility of new routes not currently on the B767-300ER/A321LR network.”

Air Astana’s new 787-9s will replace the 767 (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

And Finally, what can we see in the near future for Air Astana?

“We learned the value of Customer Experience, and the loyalty this drives when we get it right,
during the pandemic. We see Customer Experience as the next competitive battleground
between airlines and those airlines that invest in this will reap the rewards in future years. Our
Training Academy, developed 4 years back, will be pivotal in this role. We also recognize that
our consumer facing digital offering needs to be more intuitive and resources are being invested
in this field.”

Cover Image credit: Air Astana


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