On January 25, Kyrgyzstan brings into effect the amendments to the Aviation Code – the country has announced the fifth freedom of the air and the open skies policy application. The aircraft of foreign airlines may now land in Kyrgyz airports, take passengers or cargo and continue on.
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The new law gives a right not only for transit flights, but also guarantees the government non-intervention in the pricing, routing and airlines.
The explanatory note to the draft law declares that the “Open skies” will strengthen the civil aviation of Kyrgyzstan, meet the growing public demand for diversified and affordable air tickets and air freight, as well as ensure high level of flight security due to the fleet rejuvenation.
One of the initiators of the draft law, legislator Abdyvakhap Nurbaev, said that the implementation of open skies policy will ensure the expansion of flight network due to the transit between Asia, Europe and Middle East and reduction of airfares.
If we compare airfares of international and domestic airlines in the same destinations, the difference is small.
According to a representative of one of the tour operators, Azat Isakov, Kyrgyzstan has a segment of passengers who don’t care about the airline, but care about low fares. However, there’s another category of people who prefer to use foreign airlines only. They don’t care about the price, but are ready to overpay for comfort.
“The Kyrgyzstanis often prefer Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Asia among international airlines,” Isakov said.
According to the Civil Aviation Agency of the ministry of transport and roads, the fleet of Kyrgyzstan has 32 aircraft, including 8 helicopters. Only 10 out of remaining 24 passenger aircraft are airworthy.
According to specialists, the average lifecycle of passenger aircraft varies from 40 to 60 thousand flight hours or 25-30 years.
In 2009, both landing gears collapsed during the landing of An-24 aircraft at the airport of Osh. Three years later, the national government banned all passenger flights by Soviet aircraft. According to the order, An-24 was not equipped with modern equipment ensuring security, including the ground and airborne collision avoidance system.
Today the fleet of Kyrgyzstan has 6 aircraft of this brand. However, it’s not the oldest non-operational aircraft in the country. There are also a 44-year-old Yak-40, 38-year-old An-26, and 30-year-old SAAB SF-340A.
Growth is not enough
According to statistical data, the air transportation market of Kyrgyzstan has grown in recent years. In 10 years, the number of flights has increased by almost 75 per cent.
More than 3.5 million passengers passed through the airports of Kyrgyzstan in 2017. The number has almost doubled in five years, from 2013 to 2017.
However, according to law drafters, Kyrgyzstan is unable to develop its aviation industry dynamically and to increase the number of destinations.
Today domestic and international airlines operate flights within 3000 km. One can make a connecting flight only at three international airline hubs – Moscow, Istanbul and Dubai – and then head towards any place in the world. There are no direct flights to the United States, European Union or Southeast Asia.
For example, one can reach 11 hubs from Almaty and more than 26 international destinations, while the difference in one-way airfare is 100 dollars, on the average.
According to surveys held by travel agencies, nearly 100 passengers cross the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border to depart from the Almaty airport every day. Total expenses of the Kyrgyzstanis passing through the airport of the neighbouring country amount annually to 10-20 million dollars.
Debates about the potential of Manas and Osh airports to become largest hubs in the region have been held for several years. According to researcher Farkhod Mirzabaev, many low-cost airlines in the countries of Southeast Asia can become interested in Kyrgyzstan for making their flights to European countries and the cities of the European part of Russia.
According to tour operators, the Kyrgyzstanis most often use the services of the three domestic airlines – Air Manas and Avia Traffic that operate international flights, as well as Tez Jet, which operates domestic flights.
Domestic air carriers are not inspired by the amendments in the Aviation Code.
Deputy Head of Avia Traffic Company Georgy Eremenko doubted that the “Open Skies” implementation could help reduce airfares. The reason he gives is that new players in the Kyrgyz market, just like old ones, will judge from commercial viability when establishing a pricing policy.
“For example, before Fly Dubai appeared in the market of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Bishkek-Dubai air ticket cost 100 dollars. The airline squeezed out local competitors from the market and afterwards increased the price to 250 dollars,” he explained.
“This is the government’s decision; we’ll see where it goes. The strongest competitor in the market will squeeze out others.”
Air Manas airline is also concerned about the competition. Its chief officer, Talgat Nurbaev, thinks the open skies policy will be a challenge for domestic airlines because they will be unequal with foreign airlines.
“Throughout the world, civil aviation is completely supported by the government, which grants tax, customs exemptions and subsidies to domestic airlines. We will be working as usual and hope that the government will support us by creating equal conditions for both domestic and foreign carriers.”
However, the open skies concept implies creation of fair and equal conditions in the air transportation market for all participants, regardless of their countries of origin. Law drafters noted in the regulatory impact assessment:
Experience of Kazakhstan and potential hub
Kazakhstan was the first to implement the open skies policy among Central Asian countries, at the second attempt, though, during the EXPO-2017. According to the analyst of CABAR.asia, Askar Mukashev, the first results have been impressive: the passenger traffic in domestic destinations increased by 88 per cent, and international traffic increased by 30 per cent. At the same time, 10 international airports have been opened.
Moreover, the open skies policy attracts low-cost airlines that are known for their comparatively cheap flights and services. The first domestic low-cost carrier, FlyArystan, will start operating in March 2019 in Kazakhstan and will compete with rail carriers in pricing policy, which means halving of airfares.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.