Meet SCAT Airlines – A Kazakh Boeing 737 MAX Operator

Three years ago, Kazakhstan’s SCAT Airlines became the first Boeing 737 MAX operator in Central Asia. In 2018, Boeing handed over the first of six MAXs coming to the Shymkent-based airline. At the time, neither Boeing nor SCAT knew of the turmoil that was to surround the 737 MAX soon and see it grounded worldwide.

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SCAT Airlines first Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Boeing

737 MAX freshens up an aging fleet at SCAT

SCAT Airlines has been scooting around Kazakhstan and Central Asia since 1997. It has 22 aircraft in its fleet, comprising older Boeings and a handful of Bombardier CRJ-100s. According to aircraft database Planespotters.net, the average age of SCAT’s fleet is 22.7 years. SCAT flies ten Boeing 737s, ranging from a 30.9 year old Boeing 737-300 to a 13 year old 737-700. There are also a couple of 737-500s in the mix.

Also idling their engines next to the 737s on the airport apron in Shymkent are four Boeing 757-200s with an average age of 28.9 years, one Boeing 767-300 that is 20.8 years old, and seven Bombardier CRJ-100s with an average age of 18.5 years.

The sleek 737 MAX would have represented a big change for the SCAT pilots used to flying far older planes. In 2018, SCAT Airlines had high hopes for the MAX. On delivery, SCAT Airlines President Vladimir Denisov said;

“We are confident that the acquisition of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets will not only raise the level of customer service in our airline but will also give a new momentum to the development of the aviation industry in Kazakhstan.”

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SCAT Airlines’ 737 MAX in the air. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

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The 737 MAX is back flying at SCAT Airlines

One year later, the 737 MAX faced a worldwide grounding. A year after that, the global travel downturn struck. Another year down the track, Boeing’s 737 MAX is back in business at SCAT Airlines.

Kazakhstan was one of the first jurisdictions outside the United States to give the MAX the green light to fly again. On February 19, 2021, SCAT’s 737 MAX (registered as UP-B2730) resumed commercial flights. The aircraft operated a service between Almaty and Ust-Kamenogorsk and back. The first commercial flights followed an extensive roster of test flights.

Getting the MAX back in the air in Kazakhstan was a joint effort that took months of work. Pushing the recertification process through was SCAT, the Aviation Administration of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and Boeing.

Like pilots elsewhere, SCAT’s MAX pilots had to complete simulator training at a certified simulator center. SCAT’s pilots were able to do this in Istanbul. Kazakhstan’s aviation regulators and SCAT Airlines also added layers of training over and above minimum requirements laid out by regulators like the FAA and EASA.

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Most of SCAT’s planes are considerably older than the MAX, including this Boeing 757-200. Photo: Igor Dvurekov via Wikimedia Commons

Since the re-emergence of the 737 MAX in Kazakhstan in mid-February, UP-B2730 has flown a relatively heavy roster.

Passenger numbers across Kazakhstan were down 36% last year. That’s no surprise, but the country’s aviation sector has fared better than many other countries. The airline industry in Kazakhstan enjoyed a decent rebound in domestic demand last year after the initial slump.

There are quite a few players across the Kazakhstan airline industry, including the relatively high profile Air Astana. You might think a fairly crowded domestic market left little room to grow. However, SCAT Airlines has a different opinion. In addition to expecting two more 737 MAXs soon, they are planning to buy 20 new Boeing planes this decade. Whether they will all be MAXs isn’t known, but it is a confident move by SCAT Airlines that demonstrates a lot of faith in the local aviation scene.

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