Sebastian Schmitz (November/December 2010). “Airports of the World” magazine. Title of article A New Hub for Central Asia. Retrieved from http://www.airportsworld.com/

Sebastian Schmitz (November/December 2010). “Airports of the World” magazine. Title of article A New Hub for Central Asia. Retrieved from http://www.airportsworld.com/

Astana Airport seeks to establish itself as a new Asian hub.

Sebastian Schmitz discovers why.

Located in the Kazakh Steppe, the city of Astana only really started to gain importance in 1997, when it was named as the new capital of Kazakhstan by President Nazarbayev, taking the place of Almaty. Before being re-branded as Astana (Kazakh for ‘capital’) it was little more than a provincial city and one that had undergone several name changes during its history, being formerly known as Akmolinsk, Tselinograd (from where the airport’s TSEIATA code originates) and Aqmola. Since 1997, Astana has experienced tremendous development and is often referred to as the Dubai of Central Asia, a quite fitting comparison in many ways, except for the climate. Since gaining capital status, the population has almost tripled; government institutions, many companies and embassieshave moved here, dramatically increasing the demand for a modern airport with sufficient capacity to cope with the anticipated growth.


The airport dates back to December 1931, when flights were launched between the Kazakh towns of Akmolinsk and Semipalatinsk. The area suffered from frequent flooding, which meant the airport was often closed. In 1934, the route map was extended to include a number of destinations linked to each other in continuous ‘chains’. In the 1940s, the facility expanded with additional buildings being constructed and between 40 and 50 people were employed. Larger aircraft, like the Lisunov Li-2 (The Soviet version of the douglas DC-3) also started flying from here. In 1951, the runway was extended for the first time and the airport was now also able

to accept aircraft such as the Ilyushin Il-14. At around this time 24-hour operations were permitted, but there were not many flights at night. A small Aeroflot directorate (subdivision) was established in 1959, mostly using Antonov An-2s on local flights. In the early 1960s, a new airport was built at the present location and soon after even bigger aircraft started to appear – including the Il-18 and a few years later, the Tupolev Tu-154. From 1975, the Alma Ata (now Almaty) – Tselinograd (now Astana) – Moscow route was frequently served by Tu-154s. Meanwhile, the old airfield was transferred to the DOSAAF (Russian abbreviation for Voluntary Society for Co-operation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) flying club.

Recent developments

Since Astana became the new capital tremendous efforts have been made to upgrade the airport. The runway was lengthened to the current 11,484ft (3,500m), taxiways were added and widened, and the apron space significantly expanded. Today, Astana Airport (TSE) is able to accept aircraft of all sizes and in most weather conditions as its runway is certified for Cat IIIA landings. In May 2007, Malaysia Airports started managing the facility, but after only just over two years, the ten-year agreement was terminated and TSE is now once more under Kazakh management. In 2006, 834,299 passengers passed through its doors, a number which rose to just over 1.3 million in 2009.

The new terminal

In February 2005, a new terminal – designed by the late Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa (whose work also included Kuala Lumpur’s airport) – was opened. Since then domestic and international flights have been consolidated into one building and the old terminal is used for office space. In 2011, when the city hosts the Asian Winter Games, the latter will provide a temporary facility for international delegations. The look of the new terminal was inspired by a Kazakh yurt (a traditional home of the nomads in Central Asia), and is dominated by a huge, green dome – very different from any other airport you will have seen. Arriving passengers are dealt with on the ground floor, where immigration, customs and baggage reclaim are located. Check-in and departure take place on the first floor. The check-in counters are conveniently located near the security section with the gate areas immediately behind them. With most of the terminal facade made of glass, the building benefits from plenty

of natural light. Walking distances for passenger are extremely short; arrival, departure and transit are all easily reached. In terms of amenities and shopping, TSE’s offerings are rather limited but there are several restaurants and cafes both landside and post security. In addition there are souvenir shops and two duty free shops; car rental companies and airline ticket counters are also available. The best way to pass your time – apart from trying some of the tasty Kazakh cuisine – is probably to make use of the free wi-fi that is available.


The dominant carrier here is Air Astana, recently named as the official carrier for the Asian Winter Games in 2011. Although still headquartered in Almaty, the airline considers TSE to be a very important hub, not only because it is the capital but also because there is room for future growth. Because of its central location within Kazakhstan (Almaty is situated near the Southern border), TSE is a good connecting point on domestic routes. Air Astana offers flights from here to eleven domestic destinations, the most important being the one to Almaty, on which it often uses a Boeing 767 widebody. Internationally, Air Astana has a daily flight to Frankfurt, plus a summer route to Hanover provides connections to Istanbul and Antalya in Turkey, Dubai, the Russian cities of Moscow and Novosibirsk as well as Urumqi in Northwest China. In addition to Air Astana, several international carriers have added TSE to their route map and seem to be doing good business. The list includes Lufthansa with three weekly flights to Frankfurt using

Airbus A330/340s. Austrian Airlines launched a thrice-weekly service to Vienna in September 2007, flown by Airbus A320s. Turkish Airlines has a weekly flight to Istanbul and Czech Airlines introduced two weekly flights to Prague this November. As you would expect there are plenty of connections to CIS countries: Belavia offers flights to Minsk; Aerosvit has four weekly services to Kiev, using a mix of B737s and Donbassaero Airbus A320s. Russian carrier Transaero brings in a daily flight from Moscow/Domodedovo, using a B737 and the occasional B767 while Rossiya has two weekly A319 flights to St Petersburg. Uzbekistan Airways has two weekly links to the Uzbek capital Tashkent, using a mix of Avro RJ85s and Tupolev Tu-154s. Last but not least, Etihad launched weekly flights to Astana last year, using an A319. While Air Astana has the bulk of the domestic and international connections from TSE, Kazakh airline SCAT has been expanding from here, offering two new routes to Russia with weekly flights to Ekaterinburg (Antonov An-24), Kazan (Yakovlev Yak-42) and a weekly flight to the Georgian capital Tbilisi with a B737. With its mixed fleet of Russian-built and Western aircraft, SCAT also provides flights from TSE to domestic destinations. Whilst on some routes (Almaty, Uralsk and Aktau), SCAT competes with Air Astana, some of them are served exclusively, like those to

Shymkent and Taraz. Last but not least, two small Kazakh carriers have scheduled services from here: Avia Zhainar has recently launched a twice-weekly flight to Kostanay with Antonov An-24s and Zhetysu has daily Yak-40 flights to Taldykorgan in southeast Kazakhstan. In addition to that, a number of Kazakh operators run charters to and from TSE. Most of the airlines serving the city would appear to be content with their passenger loads. While still limited, these figures are on the rise as the city continues its rapid growth and becomes more important. Last year, 1,309,000 passengers used TSE, but the terminal has a planned capacity of 3mppa so the management is working hard to keep and grow existing routes and attract new airlines. They are optimistic that 2010 will at least match last year’s figures. In 2011, Astana and Almaty will jointly host the prestigious Asian Winter Games, an event that will of course generate a significant increase in traffic