A little more than 10 months after its launch with two Airbus A320s, Central Asian low-cost entrant FlyArystan has welcomed its millionth passenger with fares so cheap the local taxi industry has complained.
The low-cost carrier is the first to set up in Kazakhstan and its plan to divert passengers from trains, buses cars and share taxis has hit a nerve.
“Our head of commercial planning actually received a complaint from the taxi drivers association in a regional city, saying that our fares starting from $US13 were actually undercutting their taxi fares on the alternative 6-7 hour road trip,’’ FlyArystan managing director Tim Jordan told AirlineRatings.
Despite the hurt feelings of the nation’s taxi drivers, the airline’s first 10 months of operations have been better than expected and it hit the million passenger milestone on March 5 on a flight from the Kazakh capital of Nur Sultan by a 30-year-old traveler.
It is continuing to expand with new regional base in the Central Kazakhstan city of Karaganda and has started selling eight new routes from the base that will be phased in over April-May
The new services will kick off on April 20 with twice-weekly services to Aktau and Kostanay and include international flights to Moscow (Zhukovsky) from May 16.
Other destinations are Shymkent, Atyrau, Aktobe, Kyzylorda and Semey.
Still more routes are in the pipeline as FlyArystan increases its fleet to six aircraft this northern spring, with plans to take it to 15 by 2022.
A division of Air Astana, the low-cost offshoot began operations on May 1 with its initial base in the cultural and trading hub of Almaty followed by a second base in Nur-Sultan.
The concept of an LCC was new enough to Kazakhstan prior to the budget carrier’s launch that legislative changes were needed to allow FlyArystan to charge for baggage.
Its striking red, white and blue aircraft sport 180 Recaro slimline seats in the standard LCC 29-inch seats, although the airline says the design makes it feel like a 31-inch seat.
A little over 10 months later, the airline has sold more than 1.2 million seats and has been running at a load factor of about 93 percent as well as a creditable on-time performance of 88 percent.
Subsequent coronavirus impacts notwithstanding, the figures show the good citizens of Kazakhstan have had no trouble grasping the advantages of an LCC.
“We are certainly seeing very significant market stimulation with many tens of thousands of first-time flyers on FlyArystan,’’ Jordan said.
“On average for the domestic cities that we operate to the domestic traffic growth rate has been 38 percent over the May to December 2019 period.
“In fact, that grew to a staggering 60 percent year-over-year growth for the October to December quarter.
“These growth rates include the largest airports in the country and so the growth rate really is quite significant.”
Jordan said the response from young and old alike had put the airline well ahead of expectations in terms of operational, commercial and financial elements.
And as of last week, he was not yet too fazed about the coronavirus.
Like all airlines with international routes, FlyArystan parent Air Astana is feeling the impact of the coronavirus on its overseas services.
It has reduced services to Seoul and suspended services between Nur-Sultan and Baku, Almaty and Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese cities of Beijing and Urumqi.
Services between Nur-Sultan and Paris have also been suspended to May 31 and those between Almaty and Kuala Lumpur dropped from April 14 to May 31.
But Jordan remains hopeful there could still be domestic opportunities for both carriers.
“Based on human nature, people generally like to stay closer to home during such events as Coronavirus,’’ he said.
“As such, we think that there is a good probability that domestically we shall see an increased opportunity for FlyArystan (and Air Astana) in the domestic Kazakh market.
“While international travel carries increased perceived risk, domestic travel to see friends and family generally fairs far better during downturns caused by external events like this.
“Clearly if Coronavirus occurs domestically in a significant way in Kazakhstan then domestic price stimulated travel demand is likely to be also negatively impacted.”