Air Astana officially welcomed its first A321neoLR yesterday in a ceremony at its home airport. The airline has become the first in the CIS to operate the type, and the first in the world to operate it with a premium configuration. Over the next couple of years, its due to receive a further six of the long range A321neo, but where will we see them fly?
Headquartered in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Air Astana has been showing steady growth for the past few years. Last year, it offered almost 6.5m seats, with roughly a 50/50 split between international and domestic services. This is up from around 5.8m seats in 2014, when almost two thirds were domestic.
According to information from Routes Online, the airline’s biggest routes last year were to Moscow, Frankfurt, Delhi and Dubai. However, the airline flies a lot further away than that. It’s longest trips from Kazakhstan (both Almaty and Astana airports) include the UK, Malaysia, South Korea and France.
Right now, its first A321neoLR (P4-KGA) is being used on a couple of shorter routes. In the past week, it’s flown the routes between Moscow and Almaty and between Almaty and Astana. Whether this is a permanent fixture or not remains to be seen.
Replacing the Boeing 757
The airline’s Boeing 757s are older than the airline itself, clocking up between 20 and 23 years in service. As such, the airline is keen to replace them. The A321neo LR is seen as an ideal substitute for the aging Boeing, and the airline has already indicated that the first plane we’ll see the LR is on current 757 routes.
Shortly after the order for the A321LR was placed, Air Astana told Routes Online,
“In terms of product, in terms of range, in terms of operating cost efficiency, these aircraft are going to take Air Astana to a new level. These aircraft will allow us to operate almost all of our network: domestic, regional and also our long-haul services to Europe and Asia with one common family of aircraft.”
The Boeing 757s are mainly used on international flights to and from Frankfurt, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, Urumqi, London, Paris and Kuala Lumpur. The A321neoLR offers a direct replacement for the 757 on all but one of the routes it is currently used on – Kuala Lumpur is slightly beyond its range.
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Even better for Air Astana, the A321neo offers precisely the same seat configuration as the 757, 16 in business and 150 in economy. This means that their routes and available seats remain identical to the 757, but at a much-reduced cost of operation. The KL route will undoubtedly be served by one of Air Astana’s 767s instead.
What about the rest?
So, Air Astana has four 757s to phase out. But it has seven A321neoLR on order from Aer Cap. What will happen to the spare three?
The airline has previously said that it will allow “capacity expansion on popular routes to both Europe and Asia”. This suggests that, rather than launching new routes, they may use the additional aircraft to increase frequency on some of its most profitable services.
However, as reported by Flight Global, Air Astana CEO has noted a few new routes that are of interest to its future network development, which the A321neoLR would be ideally suited to. These include Singapore and Shanghai, as well as Prague, Jeddah, and Medina.
Ultimately, the announcement will come from the airline in its own time. It would be great to see new routes from this up and coming airline and its fleet of shiny new A321neoLRs.