The third month in Kazakhstan is discussing the decision of the Ministry of Transport and Communications on the transfer of all international airlines from Almaty to Astana by September of this year.
At the same time, despite the apparent dissatisfaction of the business community, investors and almost all Almaty citizens (one tenth of the population of Kazakhstan), the government does not listen to the arguments of either businessmen or parliamentarians.
At the beginning of March, at a joint meeting of the chambers of parliament, senator Zhumabek Turegeldinov addressed the head of government, Danial Akhmetov, with a deputy request in which he asked to consider the expediency of transferring flights from Almaty to Astana, which is located 1,000 km from the “southern capital”. It seems that in this issue the legislature did not look very convincing in the eyes of the government. Arguments that the transfer of flights may prevent Kazakhstan from achieving "a worthy place in the number of competitive countries", as well as "calls into question the further development of the city of Almaty as a financial center of Kazakhstan" was not convinced by the ministry. At a recent meeting of parliamentarians and the Minister of Transport and Communications, Kazhmurat Nagmanov, the discussion continued, but the government’s decision remained the same.
According to the deputies, the transfer of the flight to the capital is “economically unprofitable, since it deprives the possibility of direct international flights not only from Almaty residents, but from the entire southern region of the country. The decision of the committee "will entail economic damage for the country, as the population will take advantage of cheaper and more convenient flights from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia," said MP Tureldinov. In addition, “the transfer of international flights to Astana jeopardizes the work of about 500 travel companies in Almaty, and this, in turn, 70% of the total number of travel agencies in the country.
Almaty tour operators also consider that it is unwise to transfer an international airport to Astana. “A lot of money was spent on the reconstruction of the Almaty airport after it burned down. As a result of the transfer of flights from Almaty, the influx of tourists will decrease, foreigners will fly through other countries, the money will remain in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, it is much more convenient to fly through Bishkek both economically and geographically than through Astana, ”the manager of one of Kazakhstan's travel agencies believes. For his part, Mr. Turegeldinov believes that this administrative decision "strikes not only for travel companies, but also for small and medium-sized businesses in Almaty and the entire southern region."
Recall, the building of the new international airport in Astana was opened on February 2 of this year, and transferred to the management of Air Astana (49% of the shares belong to the British BAE Systems Ltd). At the presentation of the international airport, President Nursultan Nazarbayev stressed that "we" put on the wing "a completely new company that is gaining prestige not only inside but also outside our country."
However, regarding what authority Kazakhstan will win in the eyes of foreigners, the European Business Association of Kazakhstan (EUROBAK) has its own opinion. “The closure of the international airport in Almaty can be negatively interpreted to the detriment of Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, as well as granting the status of a market economy to the EU by Kazakhstan. In both cases, the issues of a free market economy and antitrust laws will be considered very closely, and actions that restrict trade cannot be perceived positively, ”say European business representatives.
The Kazakh public agrees that the opening of a new international airport is a monopolization on the aviation services market, and entrepreneurs say that all 14 major airports in Kazakhstan need to be developed. According to the President of the Almaty Association of Entrepreneurs, Viktor Yambaev, it is necessary “to open the sky of your country for foreign carriers so that residents of any region can fly from their city to where they want.”
However, the Minister of Transport and Communications, Mr. Nagmanov, does not believe that this will lead to the monopolization of the airline industry “Air Astana”, as the company is “not a monopolist, but a dominant”. Moreover, the ministry is currently developing a program for the reconstruction of regional airports in 2006–2008.
Today, direct regular flights to Almaty are carried out by Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines, British Airways, China Southern Airlines, Iran Air, Pakistan International and others. In a press release, Lufthansa emphasizes that it “did not give its consent to the termination of flights to Almaty and their transfer to Astana. In accordance with a bilateral intergovernmental agreement that regulates air transportation between Germany and Kazakhstan, the designated airlines of both countries can choose to fly any of the three destinations specified in the agreement. ” However, in the current situation, this choice was not left to the airlines. But despite this, Lufthansa still hopes that "the governments of Germany and Kazakhstan will find a mutually beneficial solution."
As for Air Astana itself, the company's employees sent an appeal to the deputies of the Parliament and the public of Kazakhstan. The appeal says that “in less than three years of flight operations, the airline transferred 4 billion 207 million tenge (more than 30 million US dollars) to the state budget”. One of the arguments of parliamentarians not in favor of Air Astana was the assertion that the company's aircraft was morally obsolete. In a statement, Air Astana employees say that “types of aircraft suitable for the conditions of Kazakhstan are chosen based on a thorough analysis, it would be unprofitable for the company to take aircraft that would stand idle on the ground.”
And yet, despite these arguments, the idea of transferring international flights to Astana is not very inspiring, especially for Almaty entrepreneurs. This is evidenced by the results of a survey among members of EUROBAK, most of which are located in Almaty: “95% of survey participants believe that it will be much more difficult for them to develop and maintain their business in Kazakhstan if they do not have the opportunity to directly come from foreign countries to Almaty ; 86% of respondents believe that leaving Kazakhstan only through Astana may adversely affect their business due to increased costs and difficulty in accessing the activities of their companies in the Central Asian region, controlled by offices located in Almaty. Only 5% answered that they would think about moving their offices from Almaty to Astana due to the closure of the Almaty International Airport. We know that some entrepreneurs may decide to transfer their offices outside of Kazakhstan if the proposal comes into force. ”
Businessmen, realizing the need for the development of the capital of Kazakhstan, still limit access of international airlines to other important centers, such as Almaty, are considered unprecedented. “There are many examples where the capital is not the main center for international air travel. For example, Berlin is the capital of Germany and the government center, but the main international airlines pass through the city of Frankfurt. Similar examples can be seen in the Netherlands, Turkey, Switzerland, the United States, Canada and Australia, ”said EURBAC.
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