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Kazakhstan's flag carrier Air Astana plans to add Mumbai as its second destination in India by 2019, the airline's President and CEO Peter Foster said today. The airline operates 10 flights between Kazakhstan and India every week, including a daily service between Almaty and New Delhi and three frequencies between Astana and New Delhi. "Our first priority is to get our Delhi to Astana flight up to daily. Thereafter, we would like to add Mumbai by 2019," Foster said at a press briefing here. He said however that the lack of available slots at airports was a problem. "Airports are increasingly being privatised and slot allocation process has to be seen to be transparent and fair," he said. "The problem is, and this is throughout the world, that because of grand-fathered rights or slots held at major airports by national carriers, new slots are extremely hard to come by," Foster added. Air Astana is celebrating 13 years of connecting India to Kazakhstan. It commenced operations in India in 2004 with flights between Almaty and New Delhi. Direct service from Astana to New Delhi was launched on July 2, 2017.
Both services are operated using Airbus A320 and Embraer 190 aircraft. The total number of passengers carried between Kazakhstan and India during 2017 reached 43,459, representing an increase of 43 per cent compared with 2016. The number of transit passengers travelling from New Delhi via Almaty to other international destinations grew by 33 per cent year-over-year in 2016, according to a statement by Air Astana. Forster said: "The traffic to the north of India doesn't represent a massive movement of people that you have going east and west. We position ourselves as the principal carrier to our region, which comprises Russia, other parts of Central Asia and more eastern parts such as Ukraine. We wish to carry many more Indian travellers to these regions." Bulat Sarsenbayev, Ambassador of Republic of Kazakhstan to India, said that his government is working to ease visa norms to encourage more transit-passengers. "72-hour free visa to Indian people is still under consideration, and I hope it will be done," Sarsenbayev said. The President and CEO of Air Astana, which inducted its first Airbus A320 neo last year and has 10 more aircraft from the neo family on order, called problems facing Pratt and Whitney engines "annoying". "When you have an aircraft grounded and not flying, it is extremely annoying but it happens," Foster said, adding that the airline was "working through the problems and there is a plan for improvement, which is being adhered to. The aircraft is becoming more reliable". The airline operates a fleet of 31 aircraft, including Boeing 767-300 ER, Boeing 757-200, Airbus A320s including one A320 neo and Embraer 190. It plans to add 10 Airbus A320 neo family aircraft, five Embraer E190-E2 aircraft and three Boeing 737 over the next three years. Air Astana serves 46 international and 20 domestic destinations.
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