Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, has marked its ninth anniversary by officially presenting the first of six new Embraer 190s at a ceremony in...

Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier, has marked its ninth anniversary by officially presenting the first of six new Embraer 190s at a ceremony in Almaty.

The airline has taken its first two Embraer 190s on lease from Florida-based aircraft leasing company Jetscape, Inc. Air Astana has also signed a lease agreement with U.S. lessor Air Lease Corporation for two additional Embraer 190s, which are scheduled to be delivered in 2011 and 2012, and the carrier is negotiating to buy two additional Embraer 190s directly from the manufacturer.

Air Astana says it selected the Embraer 190 to increase its domestic and regional services from Almaty. These will include new services to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and Samara in southern Russia, both of which Air Astana is launching on June 2.

According to Embraer, Air Astana selected the Embraer 190 to right-size routes and fill a capacity gap between its six Fokker 50  turboprops and its Airbus A320-family jets. Air Astana says its Embraer 190s will gradually replace the Fokker 50s, all of which will be retired by the end of 2012.

Air Astana has agreed to lease or buy a total of six Embraer 190s, which it plans to use to expand its regional international network and to replace Fokker 50 turboprops on domestic routes within Kazakhstan

“The Embraer 190’s range, efficiency, size and passenger comfort is ideal for Air Astana and will enable us to further grow our network within Kazakhstan, Central Asia and the CIS, as we continue to develop our position as the region’s airline of choice in terms of network and service,” says Peter Foster, president of Air Astana. “We expect to expand our E[mbraer] 190 fleet in the future as more traffic flows onto our long haul Asian and European services out of Almaty.”

Air Astana’s Embraer 190s are configured in a dual-class layout featuring 97 seats – nine in Business Class and 88 in Economy Class. Its Embraer 190s are slated to fly on a mix of domestic and international routes from both Almaty and Astana.

The carrier’s first Embraer 190 arrived in Almaty on April 30 and is already operating on domestic routes from Almaty to Karaganda, Pavlodar, Aktau and Atyrau, as well as on regional routes from Almaty to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent; Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan; and Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgystan.

To date 23 Air Astana pilots have been trained to fly the Embraer 190 at Flight Safety International in Paris, with more crews for the next two aircraft already under training at the same facility.

Pilot training for the E-190 will be brought in-house following the installation of an Enhanced Virtual Procedures Trainer (EVPT) at Air Astana’s in-house training facility in Almaty in early 2012. The airline already has Airbus and Boeing EVPT capability. Air Astana has also trained cabin crew and engineers for Embraer 190 operations.

Air Astana achieved a record net profit of US$77.71 million in 2010, up 61 per cent over 2009, on sales of $656 million. Total seating capacity increased by 4 per cent to 7.4 million RPKs and its passenger \boardings increased by 17 per cent to 2.59 million.

Service highlights during 2010 included the launch of several new regional services from Almaty and Astana, the introduction of KCTV in Business Class on long-haul services, and the installation of flat beds in Business Class on the airline’s Boeing 757.

Air Astana is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna (which owns 51 per cent of the airline) and BAE Systems PLC, which has a 49 per cent stake. The airline operates 24 aircraft on 23 domestic and 31 international routes.

Embraer has delivered more than 700 E-Jets to nearly 60 airlines from some 40 countries around the world. The 70- to 120-seat, four-aircraft E-Jet family is flying with low-cost airlines, on regional routes and with mainline carriers. Embraer has a firm-order backlog of nearly 1,000 E-jets.