Incorporated in late 2001, with the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan holding a 51 percent share and BAE Systems PLC holding 49 percent, Air Astana made its first commercial flight on May 15th, 2002. Since its maiden flight, Air Astana’s mission remains unchanged: to provide profitable domestic and international air services to the highest standards of safety and service using modern generation aircraft.
In late 2002, in addition to its first 3 Boeing 737s leased from International Lease Finance Corporation, Air Astana leased Fokker 50s from Aircraft Finance Trading BV (AFT) and 3 Boeing 757s from Pegasus Leasing Corp.
After the bankruptcy of the previous flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Air Kazakhstan, in February 2004, Air Astana moved quickly to expand its network to key international routes to Moscow, Dubai, Istanbul, Beijing, Frankfurt, and London.
In October 2005, after Peter Foster was appointed as the airline's president, long-term development plans and management structures were established and have remained largely unchanged since then.
From 2006 to 2008, Air Astana gradually replaced the Boeing 737s with leased Airbus A320 and leased two widebody Boeing 767-300ER aircraft from ILFC. It also made the first purchase order for 6 Airbus A320 aircraft
In 2009, when the EU's Air Safety Committee (ASC) enforced a blanket ban of all Kazakhstan-registered airlines from flying to, from or within the European Union after an audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) found the Kazakhstan Civil Aviation Committee (CAC) to be non-compliant in key areas of regulatory oversight, Air Astana was the sole exception. The airline was kept off the European blacklist on account of its unique structure and regulatory framework, including its IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registration, European EASA 145 aircraft engineering license, and the registration of its aircraft with the Department of Civil Aviation of Aruba. However, the inclusion on the ASC's Annex B restricted its EU operations to the level of frequencies operated at the time of imposition of the ban in July 2009.
In 2011 and 2012, Air Astana received 3 Embraer 190 aircraft each year, one of which became the airline's property. Thus, in December 2012, the airline retired the Fokker 50 fleet after replacing all of them with Embraer 190's.
In March 2012, Air Astana has announced an order for four 767-300ERs scheduled for delivery in 2013 and 2014 and three 787-8s Dreamliner aircraft. Initially scheduled for 2017, Air Astana announced in 2014 that it will defer the arrival of its first Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner for two years until 2019 amid concerns that the devaluation of the Kazakhstani tenge has dampened demand. The order worth $1.3 billion at list prices is the largest ever in Kazakhstan’s civil aviation history.
In June 2013, Air Astana successfully completed its 3rd IATA Operational Safety Audit renewal. Air Astana is the only IOSA registered airline in Kazakhstan. Air Astana maintains its fleet to audited EU EASA 145 standards.
In April 2014, the ASC decision to lift the frequency restrictions on Air Astana allowed the airline to start planning for new destinations in Europe and to increase services to Frankfurt from Astana, to Amsterdam from Atyrau, and to London.
At the 2014 World Airline Awards, Air Astana was named, for the third consecutive time, the Best Airline in Central Asia and India and also received the award for Best Staff Service in Central Asia and India for the second year in a row. Since 2012, Air Astana has been rated as a 4 Star carrier by Skytrax, the only airline in Eastern Europe and CIS to achieve this.
In February 2015, Air Astana started offering exclusively on Boeing 757-200 aircraft a new class type, Economy Sleeper, which allows passengers to enjoy a row of three Economy Class seats, Business Class amenity kits, and KCTV, along with various Business Class privileges at the airport. This product is currently featured exclusively on routes from Almaty to Hong Kong and from Astana to Europe (London, Frankfurt, Paris).