ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN — Air Astana, Kazakhstan's flagship airline, is expediting its expansion efforts in response to a decline in air traffic through Russia and the reopening of China, according to CEO Peter Foster's interview with Reuters. 

The invasion of Ukraine last year led numerous global airlines to suspend flights to Russia, causing Moscow to forfeit its role as a hub for flights between Europe and Asia. This development has allowed Kazakhstan, situated south of Russia, to capitalize on the shifting market dynamics.

Foster noted that before the Ukraine conflict, much of the western-bound traffic from the region, whether destined for Europe or the U.S., transited through the Russian Federation. With this no longer being the case, Air Astana is strategically positioned to benefit from the resulting redirection of air traffic.

Air Astana, which counts Britain's BAE Systems as a part-owner, reported a record profit of $78.4 million in the previous year, with passenger traffic increasing 11% to 7.4 million despite discontinuing flights to Russia. Foster shared the airline's ambitious plan to expand its fleet from 44 to 50 aircraft by the end of the year and accelerate growth for the upcoming years.

"We are making more orders for 2024-27. I think it's common knowledge now that the 787 Dreamliner will arrive in 2025. So we will continue to expand the fleet both with those aircraft and with more Airbus 320 family aircraft," 

he said.

Foster also acknowledged significant opportunities in China, India, and Pakistan as these markets experience growth.

Regarding the supply chain issues caused by Western sanctions against Moscow, which affected many Central Asian businesses that imported Western products and transited them via Russia, Foster stated that Air Astana quickly found alternative methods, resolving any difficulties in accessing spare parts.

Lastly, Foster mentioned that Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, which holds a 51% stake in Air Astana, intends to take the company public in the coming year.