Kazakhstan allowed use of its airspace and granted emergency landing rights at designated airfields. In April 2002 a meeting took place between Secretary of Defense Mr. Rumsfeld and President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. During the meeting, they discussed the political situation in Kazakhstan, they touched on the issue of the fight against international terrorism, and they mentioned the issue of the Almaty airport, which would be further discussed in the future. They were not talking about the presence of coalition forces in Almaty but, were talking about this airport as an alternative in the case of an emergency. President Nazarbayev mentioned the options of using airports in Shymkent and Lugovaya as an alternative to Almaty.
There is an international treaty that says that if an aircraft is damaged or has problems, any airport must provide assistance to this aircraft. Such emergency cases had already taken place at the time of their meeting.
Kazakhstan signed an agreement on 10 July 2002 with the United States to let American planes use Almaty's airport for emergency military landings. The accord was needed in part because military flights out of Kyrgyzstan's Manas Airport, 120 miles away, can be disrupted by harsh weather. At a signing ceremony attended by US Ambassador Larry Napper in Astana, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev said the Americans would invoke the agreement only when both sides recognize an emergency, such as a flare-up in Afghanistan or a terrorist incursion in the region.
The Kazakh Foreign Ministry stressed that there would be no "permanent" US military presence. Even though the deal proscribes an American military base in Kazakhstan, a development that would alarm Putin, it may indicate that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, may have mixed feelings about Russia.
Visitors are struck by the vast size of the city of Almaty - the economic center of Kazakhstan -- also called by its old Kazakh name of "Alma Ata." The city is spread out like LA - with one concrete grid square after the next -- but laid out in the French broad avenue style, with trees lining both sides of the road, painted at the bottom with white reflective paint. Piles of snow, shades of Fairbanks, were pushed to the roadside. Everywhere, you can see people in their drab winter clothes, shoveling, sweeping, and chipping snow and ice, walking for extended distances, waiting for buses, hitch-hiking, or driving every sort of conceivable automobile - from ancient Ladas - to top of the line Mercedes. If there is one symbol of Kazakhstan - it is the round, fur, winter hat. Almost everyone was wearing one. Another city trademark is their numerous open air markets, where haggling over the price of meat and clothing, are part of the entertainment.
Kazakhstan proposed the autumn 2005 closure of Almaty airport to international arrivals into Kazakhstan and the diversion of all international flights to Astana, in the Kazak capital of Astana. Discussions are ongoing with the Kazakhstan authorities but the UK Government made clear their opposition to their proposals for Astana to become the sole point of entry for international flights from certain European countries. The Government discussed with UK airlines, and with other European countries, what the implications of this might be for future aviation links with Kazakhstan.
The Chief of the Civil Aviation Department in the Kazakh Transportation and Communication Ministry, Almatbek Mambetov, says that the relocation of international flights to the Astana airport will not negatively affect the status of the Almaty airport. The relocation of flights of the four large European airlines to the airport in the capital will not lead to any significant reduction in the number of flights to Almaty, Mr. Mambetov stated in March 2005. He noted that in addition to the increased number of regular Almaty-Astana flights (up to 56 per week), the Almaty airport would continue receiving flights from China, Russia and other countries bordering with Kazakhstan, as well as those from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, alongside with local flights and charter tourist flights to popular resorts.
Among the reasons that impelled the national authorities to relocate international flights from Almaty to Astana, Mambetov noted the advantageous geographic location of Astana and fast growing needs of the capital in transport services. The new terminal at the Astana international airport was officially opened on February 2, 2005. During the opening ceremony, it was announced that Air Astana, 49% of which is owned by the UK based BAE Systems Ltd, and 51% belongs to the government of Kazakhstan, accepted the Astana International Airport into its management structure. Air Astana, established in 2001, is currently the largest airline operator in Kazakhstan, dominating the domestic air carriage market, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan.
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