Aeroplan Soaring up
It's not that long ago that Kazakhstan's general aviation, operating light and microlight craft, was facing a crisis. Unlike commercial aviation, which is enjoying a renaissance thanks to Air Astana's efforts, general aviation has just begun to recover from a sharp nosedive. This recovery is largely due to Kostanai's Aeroplan that endeavours to enhance Kazakhstan's market in light aircraft.
Aeroplan was founded in 2002 as a subsidiary of Technology of Communication Ltd., which is one of Kazakhstan's recognised leaders in telecommunications. Aeroplan's mission and major challenge was set as developing Kazakhstan's aviation market in light planes and helicopters. At that time, one could hardly imagine that Aeroplan would shortly become Kazakhstan's only provider of services related to the sale and maintenance of general aircraft and the training of pilots and mechanics. However, the company's careful management and enthusiasm brought about impressive results.
The first move by Aeroplan was purchasing its own craft – the Russian An-2 and the Ukrainian NARPs – and receiving a state licence for Kazagrosavia, a special-purpose company that was created to operate these planes. In addition, Aeroplan was certified to provide aircraft maintenance and repair.
During its first two years, Aeroplan was mainly engaged in cargo service, crop dusting, air patrols and ecotourism, which helped the company position itself as a reliable partner for private businesses and public companies such as agro-industrial enterprises, farms, and environmental and fire agencies.
At the same time, the company was studying international experience in developing general aviation and trying to build cooperation with the grandees of global aircraft engineering. Thanks to these efforts, in late 2004, Aeroplan became an authorised dealer of Robinson Helicopter Company, a leading helicopter manufacturer, which gave a new impetus to the company.
Aeroplan preferred to focus on several strategic businesses such as the supply of finest general craft, maintenance and operation of light planes and helicopters, popularisation of light aviation, pilot and mechanic courses, and the creation of a network of aerodromes and service centres to help build a full-range infrastructure.
Two years ago, Aeroplan purchased Kostanai's Municipal Airport and invested $1.5bn to rehabilitate this complex. Currently, this is the only private aerodrome in Kazakhstan. Its main function is to arrange flights and operate and store aircraft.
Maintenance, repair and tuning of planes and helicopters are performed by the company's service centre that is supplied with all necessary spares and consumables by the leading international manufacturers such as Champion, Exxon, Lycoming, Shell, and Robinson Helicopter. Moreover, to serve its local customers and partners, Aeroplan has streamlined supplies of high-quality avgas from Western Europe.
Last year, Aeroplan and Kazagrosavia opened the first private aviation school in Kazakhstan, which gives training to pilots and mechanics, as well as aviators of the Emergency Ministry's divisions, frontier guard service, and departments of the interior and road police. Aeroplan estimates that the enforcement bodies of the country will soon need over 160 pilots and 60 mechanics who may receive training at the company's school.
In addition to the service centre and the aviation school, Aeroplan has another three divisions – Aeropatrol (in charge of air patrol, environmental monitoring, aircraft maintenance and air-taxi services), Aeroshop (that supplies additional equipment, avionics, and aviation clothing), and Aerotrade (involved in aircraft supplies, maintenance and presale services).
That is to say that, in three years, the company managed to attract significant financial, human, and technical resources. To launch another stage of its business, in mid-2005, Aeroplan began supplying new aircraft to Kazakhstan and laid down a new principle of operation: 'From cheaper towards more expensive craft; from multifunctionality towards specificity; from popular brands towards cutting-edge products'. To promote its services in Kazakhstan, the company chose the piston-driven Robinson R44 Raven. This helicopter features high performance, reliable accident statistics, affordable running and maintenance costs, and multifunctionality.
While awaiting the first three helicopters, Aeroplan's pilots, engineers and mechanics received specialty training from Robinson Helicopter in California. It should be emphasised that Aeroplan insists on continuously training its crews and has built a unique team of experienced pilots and mechanics. Aeroplan's management is proud of its professional staff who have been invited from all regions of Kazakhstan, as well as from neighbouring Russia.
By 2006, Aeroplan began regular supplies of Robinson's helicopters to Kazakhstan, having ordered eleven aircraft for its customers and for its own purposes. The company's marketing department contributed greatly to this process – any customer may purchase a craft tailored to their needs directly by the manufacturer. The aircraft will be delivered to Aeroplan's dealer centre within five months or it may be purchased on the spot at Kostanai, Almaty or Astana aerodromes.
On 19 October 2005, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov visited the company's heliport in Astana and inspected the Robinson helicopter. The next day, the government invited the representatives of the Agricultural and Emergency Ministries, the Ministry of the Interior, road police, frontier guard service, customs committee and other agencies to discuss the buying of new craft from Robinson Helicopter for the country's needs. The Prime Minister requested that the interested agencies analyse the characteristics of various models and make their proposals to the government to take a final decision.
Last year, Aeroplan expanded the geography of its operations. In mid-2005, the company opened its representative office in Almaty and began building its hangars at Boraldai Aerodrome near this financial and cultural centre. The hangars are expected to be commissioned as early as 1 May 2006, which will boost Aeroplan's operations in the four southern regions – Almaty, South Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda and Jambyl Oblasts.
In 2006, the company also plans to open its representative office in Astana to build up Aeroplan's business in central and eastern Kazakhstan. Currently, some 'mobile' marketing groups are deployed in Kazakhstan's capital. Aeroplan also envisages opening of another representative office in western Kazakhstan, to encompass the oil-rich Atyrau and Mangistau Oblasts, which may become the next strategic move by the company.
To consolidate its position on the domestic market in light aircraft, Aeroplan plans to offer its customers gas-turbine helicopters. Without mentioning the outdated Mi craft, Kazakhstan has very few hi-tech helicopters, all of which are in private hands.
In 2006, Aeroplan intends to supply Kazakhstan's aviators with gas-turbine helicopters by Bell, light planes by Cessna and Techam, and business-class aircraft by Cessna and Eclipse. While promoting the state-of-the-art models in the home market, Aeroplan is keenly interested in building up the necessary technical base and preparing specialists, who are currently receiving training from Bell. This thoughtful approach convinces us that Aeroplan will surely fulfil its major objective of 'creating a comprehensive aviation infrastructure in Kazakhstan to encompass all regions of the country'.
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