TBY talks to Adel Dauletbek, Regional General Manager Azerbaijan and Georgia for Air Astana, on the need for transport links between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
TBY When did Air Astana enter the Azerbaijani market?
ADEL DAULETBEK Astana started flights to Baku from March 29, 2009. On the first few flights there weren’t many passengers, but then the market became aware of our new service. At the same time we were competing against another private airline, which operated once a week with a Baku-Tashkent-Almaty flight and once a week on the Baku-Astana route. For people from Almaty and Baku our service was new and comfortable because it was a direct non-stop flight operated on a new aircraft Airbus A320 with good service. In the short period of one year, we managed to stimulate traffic between Almaty and Baku and on August 6, 2010, we added one more service increasing our frequency to three times a week. We have strong passenger numbers for flights in the summer months, and a naturally lower demand during the winter. It is still very popular and we are committed to keeping and developing the frequency because it is more convenient for passengers to plan a business trip or meet friends and family. Even in winter we maintain our three-flight schedule; we are considering a further increase.
So seasonality is very much a factor?
Yes it is. Usually business traffic in the summer months decreases. According to embassy statistics, 150,000 ethnic Azeris live in Kazakhstan, and so our service between the two countries is good. Ethnic Azeris sometimes come for the first time to visit Azerbaijan—their motherland—on our flights. Some of them have business in Kazakhstan, but it is difficult to make exact forecasts. Nevertheless, we have a stable year around traffic stimulated by business activities.
How have you introduced internet sales to your customers and how would you characterize the uptake?
The company launched its Internet Booking Engine (IBE) in summer 2008. In Kazakhstan in 2009 and 2010 we made special deals with banks so you can use the call center and then go to the bank and pay, and then your ticket is sent to your e-mail. We see that passengers find purchasing through the internet increasingly convenient, and our sales are up by 40% compared to 2010.
In addition to Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL), who are your main competitors?
AZAL operates services into Aktau in West Kazakhstan and we operate to Almaty. We are in indirect competition with other carriers that offer services through other countries, but for passengers that prefer a direct service we are the first choice.
© The Business Year