Air Astana is targeting international expansion when it receives all seven of its Airbus A321neoLRs, which are expected to take the Kazakhstan-based carrier to a new level, president and CEO Peter Foster told ATW.

Air Astana took delivery of its first leased A321neoLR from Air Lease Corp. Sept. 23. The remaining six aircraft—all powered by Pratt & Whitney PW1133G engines—are expected to join the fleet over the next 15 months.

The seven aircraft will replace Air Astana’s current fleet of four Boeing 757-200s and will take over many existing long-haul routes and key regional markets, such as Moscow or Dubai.

Foster said the A321neoLR—with a range of seven-and-a-half hours—will enable the carrier to target new routes from its Almaty and Nur-Sultan hubs to Shanghai; Singapore; Prague; Mumbai; Madinah, Jeddah or Tokyo.

Soon the aircraft will be deployed on routes such as London Heathrow, Frankfurt or Beijing. “The aircraft’s comfort level is better than the competition offers. It is a powerful weapon,” Foster said.

“We think this aircraft will be a significant driver of change for Air Astana,” he said. “It gives us the flexibility of narrowbody economics. But it is also an important day for the industry—it is the first A321neoLR with16 lie-flat business-class seats on board and 150 seats in economy class.”

The second aircraft is scheduled to arrive by the end of October, the third in March 2020 and the fourth in June 2020. The remaining A321neoLRs will follow in late 2020 or early 2021.

However, Foster said the aircraft’s delivery had been delayed from when Air Astana signed the deal in 2015. “Actually, we expected four aircraft in May this year, but so far we have only one. The delays have been primarily [attributed] to engine trouble with Pratt & Whitney,” Foster said.

Air Astana also operates three A320neos and four A321neos. “When the aircraft works, it works. We’ve had so far 23 engine changes and four returns from the air on our neo fleet,” Foster said. The carrier took delivery of its first Airbus A320neo  in November 2016.

In addition, Air Astana is in the process of phasing out its Embraer E190 fleet, replacing them with E190-E2 jets. “The E2 offers 15% fuel savings compared to the E190,” he said.

When the E190s and Boeing 757 have been replaced, the average age of Air Astana’s fleet will be four years.

Air Astana also has three Boeing 787-8s on order for delivery in 2023.

The carrier also operates eight A320s (including two for its LCC unit FlyArystan), four A321s, four Boeing 757s, three 767-300ERs, seven Embraer E190s and four E190-E2s.

The airline expects to operate 42 aircraft by the end of next year, including 10 for FlyArystan.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at