If you’re travelling in to Kazakhstan these days, you may well be carried by the national airline Air Astana. However, this airline has only recently taken over as the nation’s main carrier, replacing a short lived but much missed Kazakh icon.
Kazakhstan airlines was the main airline for the country from 1995 to 1997 but after being involved in the worst mid air collision in airline history, the company never recovered and declared bankruptcy in 2004.
The fatal day
Since its first commercial flight in 1995, Kazakhstan airlines had enjoyed an incident free period as the country’s major carrier but all that was to change on the 12th of November 1996.
On that day, a Kazakhstan airways Ilyushin II-76 was en route to New Delhi from Shymkent when it collided with a Saudi Arabian airlines Boeing. All 349 passengers and crew from the aircrafts were killed and this remains the worst mid air disaster in the history of aviation.
As the investigations continued, the blame for the accident quickly pointed to the Kazakh plane. With both flights being organised by the same flight controller, the Ilyushin began its descent into New Delhi and was cleared to fly at an altitude of 15,000 feet.
The Kazakh crew confirmed this height but on later investigation, the plane was found to be flying at a lower altitude. By the time the controller realised what had happened it was too late: His next set of instructions was met with silence as the horrific collision had already taken place.
The fatal crash may not have been the sole reason for the demise of Kazakhstan airways but it certainly played its part. Confidence in the company took a pounding and financial problems were quick to set in and ravage the company.
A steady decline followed and the airline was finally declared bankrupt in 2004.
The new breed
In Kazakhstan as a whole, the emphasis was shifting from old to new and that included the country’s own capital city.
The ancient city of Almaty was replaced by Astana which had grown from a tiny village into the nation’s primary business centre. Along with those new developments came Astana airways, which was ready to take the responsibility of becoming Kazakhstan’s main air carrier.
Air Astana, rather perversely, has its headquarters in the old capital Almaty, but its name emphasises a new focus for the country as a whole.
It was formed in 2001 to answer a growing need for a long term replacement for the collapsing Kazakhstan airlines and commenced operations the following year. These days, for internal flights in the country and for most connecting flights to Moscow, the majority of tourists will be carried by Air Astana.
Remembering Kazakhstan airlines
Sadly, all that Kazakhstan airlines will be remembered for in its brief existence is the awful crash and the name will forever be associated with this incident.
This is a sad epitaph indeed for an airline that once carried the hopes of a new country.