British aerospace company and defence contractor BAe Systems, which holds a 49% stake in Air Astana (KC, Astana Nursultan Nazarbayev), may exit the Kazakh flag carrier’s capital altogether in an initial public offering (IPO) now scheduled for the first half of 2024, according to a high-ranking official at Kazakh sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, which owns the other 51%.

Yernar Zhanadil, managing director for development and privatisation at the fund, said during the Astana Finance Days conference on June 7 that the IPO could take place on the two Kazakhstan exchanges - the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange in Almaty and Astana International Exchange in the capital - as well as in London, the local business news site Zakon reported.

The Air Astana shareholders are currently in talks with an “anchor investor” that could take over most of BAE Systems’ stake, he revealed.

“We are trying to find the right option, but for now we are tentatively planning to go public with Air Astana in 2024, because we believe that the volatility in international markets will settle down by this time, and we hope that we can do it,” Zhanadil was quoted as saying. “We managed to find a good and reputable investor. This is, as such, an anchor investor for this IPO, but we need to respect their position, their shareholders. Now they are saying that Air Astana should be listed on an international exchange and on local exchanges as well, but negotiations are still underway, we are discussing these points.”

He added: “BAE Systems does not rule out a complete withdrawal from Air Astana. But it’s a question of price and a question of the correct composition of shareholders, because they, as a responsible shareholder, are watching who it will be.”

Zhanadil stressed that Air Astana “is fully prepared for an IPO” after posting “excellent results” for 2022. The airline achieved a record profit of USD78.4 million for the year as passenger traffic rose by 11% to 7.4 million, despite the company ceasing flights to neighbouring Russia. It has said it plans to increase its fleet to 50 aircraft by the end of this year from 43 now. The carrier’s chief executive, Peter Foster, had already intimated in January that an IPO could be staged during 2024.

Air Astana commented to ch-aviation: “Air Astana would like to clarify that these reported remarks were made by a member of the management board of Samruk Kazyna, and not by BAE Systems PLC, and should therefore be disregarded.”