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Investigation: The background of the infamous ‘Bek Air’ airline

The history of the Kazakhstan-based airline, whose aircraft’s crash caused 12 deaths, is full of contradictions.

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  • The government air fleet of Kazakhstan has been operated by airlines, whose directors are related to the founders of one of the company, Bek Air. The dates of incorporation of the government ‘Berkut’ airline and ‘Bek Air’ airline are the same.
  • Phantom airlines that have the same name as the government airline ‘Berkut’, yet unregistered in Kazakhstan, are registered with international registers. Their three-letter ICAO codes are the same as the code of Bek Air.
  • BEK AIR Joint-Stock Company was declared bankrupt back in 2018 and changed its name. However, named as ‘BEK 1’ it continued to obtain cabin crew certificates from the Civil Aviation Committee.
  • The aircrafts of Bek Air were leased by an Afghan airline for 2-3 months.
  • Bek Air airline is now registered as ‘Bek Air’ Joint-Stock Company. Nurlan Zhumasultanov who says he is the chief executive is not mentioned in the registration documents of Bek Air. However, he makes loud statements on behalf of the airline.
  • The government commission has named the preliminary reason of the air crash that resulted in 12 deaths as the aircraft icing. Bek Air airline is being checked with the involvement of European and British Civil Aviation Agencies. If Bek Air is prohibited to conduct flights in Kazakhstan, it can “leave” for Kyrgyzstan.

Bek Air and state airline ‘Berkut’

The crashed Fokker-100 of Bek Air airline. Photo: emer.gov.kz

Kazakhstan has a few registered companies that have the same names – Bek Air, and the same scope of activity.

The founder of the Joint-Stock Company ‘BEK AIR’, which was first registered in October 2015, is Saken Zharkimbaev, and the chief executive is Anvar Tuleubekov.

Limited Liability Partnership ‘BEK AIR’ (in registration documents, the name is registered in Latin letters) has Damir Shulenbaev as the founder and Rustam Biyakhmetov as the chief executive. The partnership was registered in May 2011.

Limited Liability Partnership “BEK AIR SERVICES KZ” was first registered in June 2013. The chief executive is Vyacheslav Salanin. The founders of the LLP are Joint-Stock Company  ‘Abdulaz Y’ and Yakov Klebanov.

Some Abdulazi Zholamanov, who is not known to the wider public, is named as the founder and chief executive of Joint-Stock Company ‘Abdulaz Y’. The scope of activity reads as: other activities related to passenger and cargo transportation. 

Yakov Klebanov. Photo: forbes.kz

Yakov Klebanov is the only son of the prominent family in Kazakhstan of Aleksandr and Daria Klebanovs.

Daria Klebanova is the ex-deputy of Mazhilis (Lower House) of the parliament of Kazakhstan, former president of Rakhat-TV broadcaster.

Aleksandr Klebanov. Photo: forbes.kz

Aleksandr Klebanov is in the top 50 richest businessmen of Kazakhstan, according to Forbes.kz. He is one of the two founders of the large holding energy company ‘Central Asian Electric Power Corporation’ (JSC CAEPCO).  The assets of the company are power stations, power grids and distribution companies in the northern regions of Kazakhstan and in the capital. It also owns a stock of shares of Kaustic JSC chemical enterprise.

When Aleksandr Klebanov started his career, he was related to aviation. In April 1996, the government of Kazakhstan appointed the operators (enterprises that operate aircrafts – note) of the government air fleet the following companies: AirFinance Europe (Cayman Islands, UK) and Orient Eagle Airways (Kazakhstan). Aleksandr Klebanov was then the director of the Kazakhstan office of AirFinance Europe LTD.

Four years later the republican state enterprise – government airline ‘Berkut’ – was established. It became a part of the Department of Presidential Affairs of Kazakhstan, which is responsible for the procurement of the head of state and other highest officials.

The wreckage of Fokker 100 of Bek Air airline. Photo: emer.gov.kz

Aleksandr Klebanov was the director of the republican state enterprise ‘State Airline Berkut’ from the day of its incorporation and until 2006.

According to Aviation Safety Network, a private independent initiative, created in 1996, Orient Eagle Airways (Kazakhstan) stopped its operations in 2002.

One of the aircrafts of Orient Eagle Airways – Boeing 757-200 with registration number P4-NSN, which was transferred in 2000 by order of the government to the state airline Berkut, according to Airfleets.net, and changed its registration plate to UN-B5701.  From June 2005, the aircraft was operated by the government of Kazakhstan, according to the same Airfleets.net, and changed its registration plate to UP-B5701 in September 2019.

Rescuers search the debris of the crashed aircraft. Photo: emer.gov.kz

Interestingly, the Unified logistics portal of Kazakhstan of the Union of Transport and Logistical Organisations and Associations has Berkut Air on the list of airlines with location at 6 Akhmetov Street, Almaty. The earlier mentioned limited liability partnership BEK AIR SERVICES KZ, one of whose founders is the son of Aleksandr Klebanov, Yakov, is registered at the same address.

The Kazakhstan airline Berkut Air Services founded in 1999 is registered with the Aviation Safety Network.

The year of establishment of Berkut KZ airline, which is available in the same database, is unknown, but the year of its closure is 2010. And limited liability partnership ‘BEK AIR’ emerged in 2011.

According to the official website of Bek Air, it was created in 1999 for VIP flights, the so-called business jet transportation. 

Airlines and the government of Kazakhstan

Rescue operations after the crash of Fokker 100 of Bek Air airline. Photo: emer.gov.kz

The majority of online services providing information about airlines, aircrafts and airports have information that Berkut Air is a government airline of Kazakhstan. However, in the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation – note) document 8585/182 “Designators for Aircraft Operating Agencies Aeronautical Authorities and Services”, which contains three-letter codes of airlines, has both airlines that have codes that have difference in one last letter: State air company Berkut – BEC, Berkut Air – BEK.

It should be noted that the Aviation Safety Network’s aviation safety database that is updated every day contains a description of events related to the safety of all kinds of aircrafts starting from 1919. It has information about Kazakhstan airlines Berkut KZ and Berkut Air Services, and the data are similar but dates.

In April 2009, Berkut Air Services was listed in the blacklist of air carriers that are banned from operating in the European Union due to serious deficiencies in-flight safety detected during aircraft inspections in the airports of France and Romania.

In October 2009, the database was updated with information about the amendment in the operator’s certificate, namely, the removal of commercial flights.

The company was removed from the EU’s blacklist in less than a month. It was totally removed from the list of airlines that make flights to the EU as a carrier that doesn’t perform commercial flights.

Virtually, the same information became available about Berkut KZ, only one year later.  In March 2010, the airline was listed as the air carrier banned in the EU. In October 2010, the operator’s certificate was revoked, and the company was removed from the banned list.

Thus, international registers contain phantom airlines with Berkut in their names, which did not perform commercial flights since 2009-2010. State registers of Kazakhstan do not contain any information about the legal registration of these airlines. However, there’s one interesting detail: according to the Aviation Safety Network’s database, ICAO codes of Berkut Air Services and Bek Air are the same, BEK. 







By the way, Bek Air airline still doesn’t have IOSA’s safety certificate. It means that it may not perform international flights. The company was even in litigation with the Civil Aviation Committee because of its refusal to obtain this certificate three years ago. It’s still unknown why the airline refused to verify its safety at the international level.

How Joint-Stock Company ‘BEK AIR’ became Joint-Stock Company ‘Abdulaz Y’

Letters and their equivalents in Latin or Cyrillic alphabets are important in everything that concerns Bek Air airline. According to the state databases of Kazakhstan, the founder of limited liability partnership ‘BEK AIR SERVICES KZ’ is the joint-stock company ‘Abdulaz Y’ that was registered in August 2018 and was titled at primary registration as Joint-Stock Company ‘BEK AIR’ (in Latin alphabet).

In January 2012, the sole shareholder Saken Zharkimbaev decided to relocate the company from Almaty to West Kazakhstan region.

In the meantime, the change in location was specified in the joint-stock company’s charter and registered with the Office of Justice of Terekti district of the department of justice of West Kazakhstan region.

The real reason for this decision can hardly be determined.

Back in April 2016, BEK AIR JSC was renamed to BEK 1 JSC.

And 3 years later, in April 2019, the joint-stock company was named with its current name, JSC ‘Abdulaz Y’. By the way, shareholders also changed along with the name. The sole founder of JSC ‘Abdulaz Y’, former JSC ‘BEK AIR’, was Abdulazi Zholamanov. While the former owner, Saken Zharkimbaev, became the sole shareholder of JSC ‘Bek Air’ (in Cyrillic letters), which was first registered in October 2015 and was located in Almaty.

Such detailed description of changes in owners, names and their spelling, addresses of the said companies show rather strange legal links between them, yet very close links. If we look at the activities of the companies, we’ll get a clearer picture.

Bankruptcy of ‘Abdulaz Y’ and more than 1 billion tenge debt 

According to the same state databases available on the website of the Public Revenue Committee of the Ministry of Finance of Kazakhstan, JSC ‘Abdulaz Y’ (JSC ‘BEK AIR’, JSC ‘BEK 1’) was declared bankrupt by a court in February 2018.

Its tax and customs duties debts exceed 1.1 billion tenges (almost 3 million dollars at the rate of 377 tenges per 1 dollar).

Moreover, the company under various names is in arrears to limited liability partnership ‘KazMunaiGaz-Aero’ (which sells jet fuel, a division of the national oil and gas company of Kazakhstan Joint-Stock Company ‘NK KazMunaiGaz’). According to enforcement orders of 2015 and 2016, the airline must pay over 512 million tenges (almost 1.4 million dollars at the rate of 377 tenges per 1 dollar).

It follows that the joint-stock company ‘BEK AIR’ has had financial problems since August 2015. However, the joint-stock company ‘BEK AIR’, under the name of JSC ‘BEK 1’, continued to obtain aircraft crew certificates issued by the Civil Aviation Committee in 2019 after the bankruptcy.

In June 2015, limited liability partnership ‘BEK AIR KZ’, whose legal successor became joint-stock company ‘Bek Air’ (in Cyrillic letters) in October 2015, was registered for the first time.

The interesting fact is that in 2016 JSC ‘Bek Air’ was renamed for less than a month – from mid-May to early June – as JSC ‘Halyk Air’, and then took its previous name.

We can only guess why it all happened. Besides, JSC ‘Bek Air’ must pay under enforcement orders about 18 million tenges (almost 49 thousand dollars at the rate of 377 tenges per 1 dollar), mainly to insurance companies. 

The fleet of Bek Air – aircrafts have been operated for more than 25 years  

According to the Airfleets.net, the fleet of Bek Air contains 9 Fokker-100 aircrafts, which was officially confirmed by representatives of the airline and state officials at press conferences.

The average operating life of these aircrafts exceeds 28 years.

At least 4 of these aircrafts were registered in Kazakhstan by the joint-stock company ‘BEK AIR’, which is now called joint-stock ‘Abdulaz Y’, and previously was called the joint-stock company ‘BEK 1’ and was declared bankrupt in 2018.

Certificates of state registration of civil aircrafts:

UP-F1004, serial number 11445, year of manufacture: 1993;

UP-F1005, serial number 11500, year of manufacture: 1995;

UP-F1011, serial number 11517, year of manufacture: 1994

UP-F1007, serial number 11496, year of manufacture: 1996 (which crashed), were received in 2016 by the joint-stock company ‘BEK 1’ (JSC ‘BEK AIR’, JSC ‘Abdylaz Y’).

All of the above confirm the obvious interrelation between joint-stock company ‘BEK AIR’ and joint-stock company ‘Bek Air’ (in Cyrillic letters). 

Also, the three aircrafts from the fleet of Bek Air, were leased by private airlines of Afghanistan. Afterwards, they were returned to Kazakhstan. Moreover, 2 aircrafts – UP-F1005 and UP-F1014 were leased by the Afghan airline, Safi Airways, for 2-3 months only in 2017.

Another aircraft with registration plate UP-F1009, which was leased by Bek Air in 2013 from the Netherlands-based Mass Jet Lease, was again leased in 2016 by another Afghan private airline Kam Air. One year later, Mass Jet Lease transferred this aircraft to the African airline Air Djibouti under lease. In 2019, the aircraft was again leased by Bek Air.

Rescue operation after the crash of Fokker 100 of Bek Air airline. Photo: emer.gov.kz

Going back to the 2019 events that preceded the tragedy in Almaty, we should note that the operator’s certificate (permit to transport passengers by aircraft) issued to the joint-stock company ‘Bek Air’ (in Cyrillic letters) was valid until November 16, 2019.

It was signed by acting deputy chair of the civil aviation committee of the ministry of investment and development of Kazakhstan, Toty Amirova.

The new certificate was obtained by the airline 2 months before the tragedy – October 31, 2019.

The document was issued by the joint-stock company ‘Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan’, which is subordinate to the ministry of industry and infrastructure development of Kazakhstan.

Peter Griffiths. Photo: informburo.kz

It was signed by Peter Griffiths, the head of JSC appointed in August 2019.

Before this employment, he was vice president of the IATA European region (International Air Transport Association – note), as well as the manager of the Department of Civil Aviation of the Department for Transport of the UK.

Now the operator’s certificate of Bek Air and airworthiness certificates of 9 Fokker-100 aircrafts are suspended by the authorities of Kazakhstan until full investigation of reasons of the crash.

Who is Nurlan Zhumasultanov?

Nurlan Zhumasultanov. Photo: A.Lunin.

Berik Kamaliev, vice minister of industry and infrastructure development, at the briefing next day after the crash said Nurlan Zhumasultanov was the sole founder of Bek Air airline.

By the way, Nurlan Tuleubaevich was the head of the Office for Investigation of Air Crashes and Incidents of the Civil Aviation Committee of Kazakhstan from January 2018 to June 2019.

However, Zhumasultanov speaking on behalf of the company said he was the chair of the board.

But according to the Financial Records Depository of the ministry of finance of Kazakhstan, Nurlan Zhumasultanov ceased to be the lawful owner of joint-stock company ‘BEK AIR’ back in 2015 (then the company’s name was joint-stock company ‘BEK 1’), wasn’t the member of the board of directors and was not the chief executive of the company.

According to the registration data of all companies that have BEK AIR in their names, he is neither their owner, nor their chief executive. Therefore, it’s unclear why state officials called Nurlan Zhumasultanov the owner of joint-stock company ‘Bek Air’ (in Cyrillic letters) and why he spoke on behalf of the airline at press conferences related to the crash of Fokker-100 at the Almaty airport.

At the press conference of Bek Air airline, which was held only on the 4th day after the tragedy, Zhumasultanov claimed he was the head of the company up to some point and now “it’s time to get back”.

From the day of the accident, Zhumasultanov has made numerous loud statements. In particular, he and other representatives of the airline made a statement at the said press conference about the cause of the crash without waiting for the findings of the state commission. The airline thought the cause of the crash was the so-called “aircraft trail”, the air that is generated behind the moving aircraft.

Bek Air said the cause was a short time span between the crashed Fokker-100 and the Airbus A320 of Air Astana that took off right before it.

However, specialists of the republic state enterprise ‘Kazaeronavigatsia’ denied this version right away. According to the recorders, the time span between the aircrafts was 2 minutes, which complies with the standards.

Moreover, Bek Air wondered why private buildings were located so close to the take-off runway. People died because the aircraft crashed into the uncompleted residential house. “If it wasn’t for this house, everyone would be safe and sound,” Nurlan Zhumasultanov said.

Preliminary cause of the crash

Preliminary findings of the state commission responsible for the investigation of the crash of Fokker-1oo that was performing Nur-Sultan – Almaty flight were announced after the recorder tape interpretation by specialists of International Aviation Committee (Moscow). The commission thought the main cause of the crash was the aircraft icing because the aircraft commander refused to have a complete deicing procedure.

Deputy prime minister of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Roman Sklyar. Photo: inform.kz

“By decision of the aircraft commander, it was decided to deice only the stabilizer, while the wings were not. As to the icing of the aircraft, the commission emphasized that ice could be formed on the surface of the aircraft that was parked for two days at certain weather conditions from 12 am December 25 last year till 8 pm December 27, 2019. Thus, based on the studied weather information and analysis of the flight data recorder, the main cause of the crash is the icing of the aircraft,” Roman Sklyar said at the press conference in Nur-Sultan on January 10, 2020.

According to preliminary data of the flight recorder that recorded speech of the crew, pilots could not determine the cause of extreme aircraft rolls and acted uncoordinated.

Rescue operation after the crash of Fokker 100 of Bek Air airline. Photo: emer.gov.kz

At the 5 meter height, the pilot-in-command ordered to raise the landing gear, but the aircraft failed to go up and hit the runway a few times with the airframe. When the landing gear was raised, the aircraft slid off the runway and crashed into the uncompleted residential house.

The commission established to identify the facts of the crash will keep on working together with the representatives of Fokker-100 manufacturer from the Netherlands in order to interpret the flight recorder data of technical parameters of the aircraft.

Together with the Interstate Aviation Committee, the visualization of the event will be created within a month. The aircraft wreckage will be thoroughly studied to assess the technical condition before and after the crash.

The versions of overloaded aircraft, the impact of weather conditions and trail lines were eliminated by the commission.

Bek Air finds it possible to operate in Kyrgyzstan

At the briefing, vice-minister of industry and infrastructure development Berik Kamaliev said that the Aviation Administration of Kazakhstan conducted the inspection of Bek Air together with the representatives of the British and European Civil Aviation Agencies. The decision on further operation of the airline would be made by the results of the inspection.

Prime minister of Kazakhstan, Askar Mamin, leads the state commission for flight accident investigation.  His deputy, Roman Sklyar, said in the interview to the Kazakhstan online portal that all those involved in the crash, although indirectly, would be brought to punishment.

Nurlan Zhumasultanov, who holds himself out as the chief executive of Bek Air, said he won’t let his staff be punished and is ready to be held liable.

Meanwhile, he leaves it open to operate in neighboring countries, particularly, Kyrgyzstan, if Bek Air is banned in Kazakhstan.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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