Air Astana hunts expanded horizons with E190-E2

Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, is looking to extend its reach from Central Asia after receiving the first of five new Embraer E190-E2 regional jets.

Celebrating the delivery of the first of the narrow-body aircraft at a special ceremony in Astana, the airline’s chief executive Peter Foster said the E2 opened up “significant possibilities” to serve destinations previously far beyond the reach of the smaller regional jets in its current fleet. The new aircraft has a maximum range of 5,300km, an increase of 1,000km compared to the existing E190’s range. The new E2 is the 10th EJet in the carrier’s fleet, and is due to begin commercial flights in January.

The first new E190-E2 was handed over sporting a distinctive Snow Leopard livery, to help draw global attention to the country’s ongoing efforts under the ‘Wildlife Without Borders’ programme to preserve the large wildcat, a native to the mountain ranges of southern Kazakhstan and which is threatened by extinction.

According to Foster, the company has been operating its EJets since 2011, with the longest flights using its existing E190s currently to Baku, Tbilisi and Dubai during the summer season – flights of around four and a half hours. The E2s will enable it to fly up to an hour longer “if we wanted to.”

The remaining four E2s, all on initial six-year leases from AerCap, will delivered between now and 2020, with the likelihood that the airline will also order another four of the aircraft, he added. The leases on its existing EJets expire between now and 2021, he said.

The E2s will all have 108 seats, compared to the E190’s 97, with 12 in business class compared to nine in the older version. The E2s are powered by Pratt & Whitney’s PW1900G Geared Turbofan engines.

John Slattery, Embraer Commercial Aviation’s president and CEO, said the company was “honoured to deliver new-generation jets to Kazakhstan by delivering this ‘wildcat’ to our good friends at Air Astana.”

Air Astana’s CEO Foster also went on to describe this year as having been “very challenging, but it’s the same for everybody,” largely due to the price of fuel. “We hedge some of our international fuel, but not our domestic fuel. A lot of that fuel is bought from Russia at spot price.” However, he stressed, “For 2018, we will make a profit. It’s been a very difficult year, but we’ve been able to make significant non-fuel cost savings, and some very good yield improvements in the domestic market, along with some general savings in engineering costs.”

Other aspects of its 34-aircraft existing fleet include the impending arrival of its new long-range Airbus A321neo aircraft, with the carrier originally due to have received four by next April. It will now only get two next year, he said, in June and July, both of which will “probably” fly to London. It will also continue to phase out its leased Boeing 757s, which will now stay in its fleet during 2019 before being moved on during 2020.

The carrier will undoubtedly benefit from significant reduced fuel usage on the A321neos as opposed to its existing B757 aircraft and A320 classics. However, some of the latter are only around six years old and described by Air Astana as being “very reliable” so it is not “in a rush” to replace those with neos.

Air Astana is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s national wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna (51%) and BAE Systems PLC (49%).

The carrier also confirmed last week it is launching new flights to Tashkent in Uzbekistan from London, Paris and Frankfurt starting in March 2019, with all flights going via its Astana hub. The Tashkent flights originating from London Heathrow will run three times weekly, four times weekly from Frankfurt and twice a week from Paris.

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