Air Astana, Kazakhstan’s state-controlled carrier, said it may make a decision as early as February between the Boeing Co. 737 Max and Airbus Group NV A321 Neo for a replacement order of 11 aircraft.

The order will probably be a combination of five purchased and six leased planes and the airline is currently in talks with Aercap, Bank of China Aviation, Air Lease Corp and CIT for the neos, Air Astana President Peter Foster said in an interview in Dubai.

“We tend to be leaning toward Airbus but it’s not a final decision yet, we’re keeping it open,” he said. “We have a board meeting on Valentine’s Day and we’d like to have a proposal in front of our board on that day.”

The carrier, which is 49 percent owned by U.K. defense company BAE Systems Plc, has issued a request for proposals to replace its 757s and other aging planes and has received responses from both manufacturers. While the Max has “slightly better” range it is smaller than the neo, adding that engine capability, fuel capacity and pilot training are all factors in making a decision.

Foster said the airline also needs to replace a fleet of Embraer SA E-190 regional jets and that a decision will be made next year. The E2 is an attractive option as it would be 10 percent cheaper to operate and therefore increase margins and the CSeries is not under consideration because it is still in the testing phase, he added. “Over time we’d replace them all but there is no hurry. We’d replace them over a ten year period.”

Foster, who is interested in a new aircraft to succeed the 757, said there is definitely a market for such an offering and it will be a “battleground” for plane manufacturers as the 777 and 787 have become dominant in the large and mid-range space.

“The smaller end is the next battleground. Someone is going to move on it at some point,” he said. “I’m sure that Airbus are not sitting back and just enjoying the views of southwest France, I’m sure they’re thinking about it too.”

Air Astana, which today announced daily flights between Almaty and Dubai, will see “very strong” operating profit and he expects the company to report a profit this year, Foster said.

Air Astana is targeting an initial public offering by 2017 at the latest but has not decided how much it needs to raise yet, Foster said. It aims to grow its fleet to 45 planes in 2022 from 30 currently.

To contact the reporter on this story: Deena Kamel Yousef in Dubai at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at Chris Malpass, Alex Devine.

Photo Credit: Kazakhstan airline Air Astana prepares for take-off. Mi Chiel / Flickr