Central Asian aviation capitalize on Ukrainian crisis
Flights into and out of Central Asia boom as airlines that used to fly over Russia are now traveling through or flying over Central Asia on their way to Asia and the Middle East.
Central Asian airlines are capitalizing on opportunities created by Russia's blocked airspace, with aircraft traffic into the region increasing dramatically since the start of the Ukraine war, Reuters reported, citing executives and experts.
Russian airspace has been blocked to dozens of Western countries since the beginning of the war. Flights into and out of the region have boomed as airlines that used to fly over Russia are now traveling through or flying over Central Asia on their way to Asia and the Middle East. In addition, new airlines aided by government funding, have also taken advantage of the situation.
"A lot of people have moved from the conflict area into Central Asia...they have the linguistic affinity so we're seeing more flights into this area and we're seeing more dynamic economies," explained Raphael Haddad, the head of JetCraft Commercial, a firm that sells aircraft globally and in the region.
Eurocontrol data highlighted that flights between many European countries and Uzbekistan have risen 105.9% since 2019 and 36% since January 2022.
In the same context, Kazakhstan's Aviation Administration indicated that passengers are up 16.5% year-on-year, and Kazakhstan's Air Astana confirmed that 2022 was its best year ever with an after-tax profit of $78.4 million.
In Uzbekistan, authorities have helped launch two new airlines called Silk Avia and Air Samarkand, hoping to take advantage of the traffic increase.
"The startups, some of them are supported by local governments or local businessmen that have seen an opportunity to enter a market which is becoming more dynamic," Haddad told Reuters.
The move comes as European airlines struggle to find new routes into Asia following the closure of Russian airspace, while Russian airlines have difficulty in transporting locals who want to fly overseas.
Since the mid-2010s, Russian airline Aeroflot has been attempting to become a key transit route between European cities and Asian nations via Moscow, alongside competitors such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, and Emirates, Reuters mentioned.
It added that in 2016, the airline carried 3.6 million passengers on Europe-Asia flights and expected additional development. However, they're now much more restricted since they struggle to function normally.
James Halstead, an aviation analyst and managing partner at Aviation Strategy, considered that "the Russian airlines themselves are severely constrained in what they can do because of equipment shortages, they can't maintain the aircraft to sufficient standards."
"They still have demand from those who want to go on holiday, they have links into the 'stans'. This is an opportunity for those like Air Astana to operate routes into Russia and through their hubs to provide the services that otherwise can't be operated," he told Reuters.
The report suggested that the area is projected to continue growing as travel from China restarts and global traffic returns to 2019 levels.
"The growth is not as significant as it could have been because COVID restrictions in China were in force during 2022. It will grow since the restrictions are lifted," one Russian airlines industry source told Reuters.
According to ACI Europe data, while traffic between Asia and Central Asia has grown since 2022, it is still roughly 20% less than in 2019.
If the war in Ukraine continues, there may be more prospects for tourism in Central Asia as Russian visitors seek alternatives to Europe for their vacations.
According to the Association of Tour Operators of Russia (ATOR), Russian nationals traveled abroad to 142 countries in the last year, totaling more than 23 million trips.
The most popular tourist destinations for Russians were Turkey (5.2 million visits, or approximately 25% fewer than in 2019), the United Arab Emirates (1.2 million trips, or 21.2% higher than in 2019), Egypt, and Thailand.
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