At the time of Kazakhstan’s independence and for several years thereafter Air Kazakhstan was the leading commercial airline company in Kazakhstan. Of course it was lumbered with aging Soviet-era aircraft. Apart from leasing some high mileage Boeing aircraft, it was unable to raise the finance necessary to develop into a modern carrier of people and goods. Being privatized by the government in 1992 saved it temporarily but hadn’t helped it in the long run.
I flew on Air Kazakhstan only a few times. The most memorable trip was the one from Almaty to Shymkent in the fall of 1998. My lawyer colleague’s seat belt was missing its buckle so he calmly sat through the entire flight without benefit of the main safety feature for passengers. I suppose you can say that one only needs the seat belt when bad circumstances make it really necessary, and it isn’t needed merely to sit quietly in the seat.
The trip was also memorable due to the ‘Top Gun’ landing of the aircraft at Shymkent. It was easy to imagine that the pilot got a thrill out of flying and felt at ease in sharing that sensation with his passengers.
Even though Air Kazakhstan couldn’t afford modern aircraft, it could afford a new style of uniforms for its crew. I was invited to and did attend the formal presentation of the new outfits at the National Press Club on Furmanov Street in Almaty. Never having attended such a presentation before – nor since – I found it very interesting. Much like a fashion show but without the raised catwalk.
One of the young women showing off the cabin crew outfits was the attractive Zhazira – last name never to be discovered by me. She was instantly recognizable as the woman featured in the numerous billboard ads for Air Kazakhstan and in their in-flight magazine. I had assumed that the woman in the ads was a hired model or that the photo had been airbrushed or otherwise beautified but, no, the woman in person was even more attractive than in the ads, and she genuinely was a working cabin attendant, formerly called a stewardess in less gender-neutral job description times.
After the uniforms were showcased, the men and women modelling them were put at their ease while the spokesman for the company did a more general presentation about the company.
Well, was I ever surprised when Zhazira took her seat next to me to listen to her boss. A celebrity. She was someone everyone recognized but few knew. We exchanged comments during and after the presentation in English. I was impressed. A really pleasant person.
At the end of the program, when all of us left the Press Club, I was brought down to reality a bit and was reminded what it meant to be a celebrity in Almaty at that time. Zhazira, the woman in the billboard ads, the woman in the new uniform, the woman who sat next to me, this famous woman stepped out in the street and took the first gypsy cab that stopped for her.
I had more encounters with Air Kazakhstan after that, but none with Zhazira. The company continued to founder and eventually was allowed to go into bankruptcy. Starting in the fall of 2001, our law office did some legal work for an aircraft leasing company in the United States. The nature of the work: repossession. All of us lawyers in the office were required to do some fast brushing up on Kazakhstan’s bankruptcy law.
Book Sales: Find more stories about Kazakhstan from the 1990s and later in my book, West Meets East in Kazakhstan. It’s available online in softcover or e-book format from AuthorHouse (the publisher), or Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Website: My blog posts go out on Facebook and sometimes on LinkedIn. If you’d like to see them again or check for posts you might have missed, go directly to my website: viewkazakhstan.com
Consultancy: Although I currently am trying to ensure that my book gets maximum exposure, the fact is that writing and publishing are sidelines for me. My main focus is assisting foreign companies to engage in business in Kazakhstan (or elsewhere in Central Asia) and assisting businesses and individuals in Kazakhstan with their projects outside of Kazakhstan.
Based on my long career as a lawyer and my time spent in Kazakhstan, I take on projects in a wide range of industries, certainly in oil & gas, banking & finance, and minerals. But such a statement insufficiently acknowledges the many spheres in which I have had experience – commercial trading, manufacturing in several areas, transport, directorships of companies listed on the London Stock Excange, shipping, and many more.
For further information, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and at +44 1753 885955.