Clare Nuttall in Astana -
With airline passenger numbers steadily increasing, Kazakhstan's regional airports are gradually being rebuilt, but safety concerns have arisen at the airports not yet being addressed by the government's modernisation programme.
A total of around KZT100bn ($665m) has been spent on modernising the country's regional airports, according to Kazakhstan's Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC). This is a crucial pillar in the government's attempt to revitalise these areas and avoid a rise in social tensions, as well as meeting the sharp increase in air passenger traffic on both domestic and international routes in recent years. The number of passengers travelling by air has more than doubled in the last five years to 4.1m in 2011, according to the Kazakhstan state statistics agency.
Of the 18 airports in Kazakhstan where scheduled flights are operated, the runways and passenger terminals at ten have already been modernised, and work at the remaining airports is due to take place in 2014 and 2015. Those already modernised include the international airports at Kazakhstan's capital Astana and largest city Almaty, as well as airports in regional centres such as Aktau, Atyrau, Pavlodar and Shymkent. Work at airports in several other cities is underway as the government attempts to bring all its airports into line with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards. "The technical equipment and the state of the runways at several regional airports require reconstruction and modernisation in the near future. The total cost of these projects will be around KZT80bn," an MTC official tells bne. "We have to carry out feasibility studies in 2013 for the airports at Kostanai, Uralsk, Semipalatinsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk and Petropavlovsk, and in 2014-2015 to complete the full renovation of the airports."
While some work is being funded by the state, according to the MTC, Astana is planning to set up public-private partnerships - as yet barely tested in Kazakhstan - to fund the reconstruction of some passenger and cargo terminals in future.
However, progress may not be fast enough to avert problems that have plagued the country's airline industry. In September, the prosecutor's office in North Kazakhstan region filed an application to close down the airport at Petropavlovsk following a damning report on safety standards at the airport from Vira Project. The report detailed structural problems in the airport terminal building and other safety issue, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. A commission has been set up by Kazakhstan's Committee of Civil Aviation to investigate the situation.
Kazakhstan's dilapidated airports fit into a wider pattern of problems in the country's airline industry, which has resulted in the country finding itself on the EU air safety blacklist. Currently, all Kazakhstan-registered carriers, with the exception of national carrier Air Astana which meets international standards, are banned from entering EU airspace over safety concerns. Kazakhstan's air traffic control agency Kazaeronavigation is now working with the ICAO to rectify the situation.
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