Sunday, June 25, 2017

Air Serbia, Croatia, Adria among Europe’s best

Air Serbia, Croatia Airlines and Adria Airways have been named among Eastern Europe's best carriers at the prestigious World Airline Awards, hosted by Skytrax, during the Paris Air Show this week. For only the second time, three of the largest carriers from the former Yugoslavia have been featured among the best in the category, while Air Serbia and Adria were also named among the continent's top regional airlines. For the first time, a carrier from the former Yugoslavia - Air Serbia - placed among the world's best regional airlines. Air Serbia was voted Eastern Europe’s fourth best airline, Croatia Airlines came sixth, while Adria positioned itself as the ninth best. As a result, Air Serbia improved its position from last year's seventh placing, overtaking Croatia Airlines in the process, which last year managed fourth place, while Adria dropped one position on 2016. The trio managed to outperform the likes of Romania's TAROM, Russia's Pobeda, as well as Czech Airlines. Aeroflot was awarded the title of Eastern Europe’s best carrier for a third year running, followed by LOT Polish Airlines and S7 Airlines. Air Serbia was trailed by Wizz Air.

2LOT Polish Airlines
3S7 Airlines
4Air Serbia
5Wizz Air
6Croatia Airlines
8Czech Airlines
9Adria Airways

Air Serbia and Adria Airways were both among the top ten best regional airlines in Europe. According to Skytrax, the category is the most important global quality distinction for airlines. For these World Airline Awards, regional airlines were defined as full service carriers that primarily operate domestic or international flights up to approximately six hours. Whilst some regional airlines may operate a small number of longer flights, the core market for this airline classification are short / medium haul routes where customer product and service expectations are different to long haul routes. Air Serbia settled for fifth place, while Adria came behind in ninth, ahead of Olympic Air. Ultimately, Aegean Airlines was named the best regional carrier, followed by Air Nostrum, Air Malta and S7 Airlines. Air Serbia was also ranked as the 20th best regional airline in the world for the first time. None of the carriers from the former Yugoslavia were ranked among the world’s top 100 airlines. Croatia Airlines, which came 99th in 2014, failed to make the list this year. Montenegro Airlines is the only carrier from the former Yugoslavia not to have been featured in any of the several dozen categories.

1Aegean Airlines
2Air Nostrum
3Air Malta
4S7 Airlines
5Air Serbia
7Czech Airlines
9Adria Airways
10Olympic Air

The World Airline Awards, described as "the Oscars of the aviation industry", are the most coveted quality accolades for the world airline industry and a global benchmark of airline excellence handed out based on passenger experience. The survey operated online between August 2016 and May 2017, with 19.9 million customer surveys completed, across a range of topics, resulting in the awards for airline of the year, together with regional and best airline awards. All entries are screened to identify each IP / user information, with duplicate or ineligible entries deleted. The awards are said to be 100% independent with no payment by any airline or other outside organisation for any aspect of the customer survey or awards presentation event. A total of 105 different nationalities participated in the customer satisfaction survey, which covered 320 airlines, from largest international airlines to smaller domestic carriers. The surveys measure standards across 49 key performance indicators of airline front-line product and service. The survey customer voting processes and Airline Awards results analysis were independently assessed in detail by the UK Advertising Standards Authority.

1Bangkok Airways
2Hong Kong Airlines
3Cathay Dragon
4Alaska Airlines
5Aegean Airlines
7Porter Airlines
8Silk Air
9Copa Airlines
20Air Serbia

Overall, Lufthansa was named as Europe’s best carrier. Star Alliance, of which both Croatia Airlines and Adria Airways are members of, was awarded for the best alliance in the aviation industry for a second year running. Qatar Airways was named the world’s best airline, taking the title over from last year’s victor Emirates. Saudi Arabian Airlines was the industry's most improved, while Air Asia was awarded the world's best low cost airline. This year marked the sixth time airlines from the EX-YU region made it into the awards list and the first time a carrier from the region was featured in three categories. Earlier this year, Skytrax named the world’s best airports, with Belgrade and Skopje ranking fifth and tenth in Eastern Europe respectively.

1Qatar Airways
2Singapore Airlines
5Cathay Pacific
6Eva Air
8Etihad Airways
9Hainan Airlines
10Garuda Indonesia

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Al-Baker: Qatar Airways eyeing Ljubljana service

Qatar Airways has confirmed it is considering introducing services between Doha and Ljubljana as spare capacity is made available following the fallout between the emirate and other Gulf states. Speaking at the Paris Air Show, Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al-Baker, said, "The launch of flights to Skopje and Sarajevo will be brought forward, and Ljubljana is being looked at. We have many destinations we plan to operate with our narrow-bodies. We are diverting capacity to new destinations that we were delaying opening and increasing frequencies to current destinations". The Slovenian capital would become Qatar Airways' fifth destination in the former Yugoslavia following Zagreb, Belgrade, Skopje and Sarajevo. Furthermore, the carrier would be the first from the Gulf region to serve Ljubljana.

Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport has been seeking nonstop flights to the Middle East despite increased competition from nearby rivals in Zagreb and Venice, which has made it increasingly difficult to secure such operations. Both the Slovenian government and Ljubljana Airport launched an offensive last year to attract Gulf carriers. The Qatari Minister for Economy and Trade, Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, who recently visited Slovenia, expressed hope for flights between Doha and Ljubljana to be established in the near future. The Slovenian Ministry for Infrastructure noted that a direct air service to Doha would open up new opportunities for tourism. Services between the two countries are now expected to launch in 2018.

Qatar Airways says it could serve Ljubljana as part of its "robust plan B", after it was forced to terminate flights to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain. Qatar Airways' chief conceded there are dark clouds ahead as a result of the Qatar diplomatic crisis and noted that the airline will underperform in the coming period. However, Mr Al-Baker also noted, "Qatar Airways has a very strong growth plan. I announced that I was going to introduce 24 new destinations. I couldn't do it because I had capacity restraints. Now that we have released capacity from the eighteen destinations we have been illegally barred from operating, we are now going to accelerate the other regions of the world where we feel we will mitigate the reduction in passenger numbers from these eighteen destinations".

Friday, June 23, 2017

Air Serbia’s transatlantic service one year on

Today marks a year since Air Serbia launched its first transatlantic service between Belgrade and New York with the carrier upbeat on the route’s future prospects. Over the past year, the airline operated 204 flights between the two cities and says it has witnessed strong and growing passenger load factors. “Air Serbia is delighted to be celebrating one year of successful operations to New York, where we began flying on June 23, 2016. Our flight was widely anticipated in Serbia and Southeast Europe for two reasons: it reconnected Serbia to the US with the first Serbian-operated flight since 1992, and it established the only year-round transatlantic air link to the US originating in the region”, an Air Serbia spokesperson told EX-YU Aviation News. They added, “It is especially satisfying to see that the mix of traffic is balanced, with 47% of guests originating from North America and 53% coming from Europe. The reaction from the Serbian diaspora in North America has been exceptionally positive, as predicted, and the service has also been welcomed with open arms by communities from other countries of the former Yugoslavia”.

The airline has worked hard to market the flights in the wider region, with the service proving particularly popular with travelers from Montenegro and Albania. “The flight has captured strong travel demand from countries neighbouring Serbia, with high volumes of connecting traffic from Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Macedonia and Croatia. This has driven the growth of tourism arrivals from America, and we are particularly seeing a large number of holidaymakers who are combining a visit to Belgrade with an onward trip to the Adriatic coast”, Air Serbia said. Over the past twelve months, the Serbian carrier has concluded partnerships with jetBlue, which allows passengers to connect from Belgrade to major cities across the States with one stop in New York, as well as American Airlines, which has opened up travel options for passengers flying to the mid-West and cities which are heavily populated with people who originate from the Balkans, such as Cleveland.

Ethnic travel agents in the United States have said that following an initially slow response by the flying public to the Air Serbia service, bookings and interest have significantly picked up. Travel agency Axioma Travel, which caters to the ethnic market and diaspora from the former Yugoslavia in the US, told EX-YU Aviation News, “Last year’s launch of New York – Belgrade flights was highly anticipated but at the same time met with quite a bit of scepticism. By the time ticket sales started, many potential customers had already purchased tickets on other carriers. Others waited as they were afraid the flights would be late, subject to government approval, and that the on board service would be poor. For its part, Air Serbia was slow to roll out competitive interline agreements to link JFK with points where ethnic customers live”. However, Fedja Stepanovich, the head of Axioma, noted, “Since the start of flights in June of last year, Air Serbia’s sales team worked with the agent community to develop programs and incentives to raise brand awareness, improve interline links, and, most importantly, listen to customers and agents about what was needed to boost sales. News of the impressive on-time record and great on board service quickly spread through the ethnic community and the phones started to ring”. He added, “In the same period this year, Axioma Travel's sales on flight JU500/501 have grown almost tenfold. Customers from cities like Phoenix, Cleveland and Jacksonville for the first time in several decades now have a one-stop flight to Belgrade. And they started to line up to buy the tickets. On many flights this June we have booked forty, fifty or even sixty passengers on a single flight”.

Questions have been raised as to whether Air Serbia can sustain a large investment such as transatlantic operations, however, the airline says the route is a long-term commitment which will take several years before it reaches its full potential. The carrier has also generated revenue on the route from other streams such as cargo. “Air Serbia's cargo operations are performing above all expectations. The airline's uplift capacity to JFK, which is fifteen tonnes per flight on the Airbus A330, is in high demand. We are transporting a wide variety of goods to the US and onwards to Canada and countries in South America, including textiles from Romania, Italy and Turkey, automotive parts and gaming industry machines from Bulgaria, and Serbian fruits and mushrooms, to name a few. From the other direction, there are even regular shipments of cargo from Ecuador and Argentina being sent to the region on board our service from JFK”, the airline said. Going forward, local agents in the US say areas of improvement and opportunity include more progress in interline connections to other US cities, better timed schedules to Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Podgorica and capturing more passengers from Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and others that already had established one-stop connections (through Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, Turkish Airlines etc) to Belgrade and other cities in the region.

PHOTOS: AtlasGlobal launches Sarajevo


Turkish carrier AtlasGlobal inaugurated flights between Istanbul Ataturk Airport and Sarajevo yesterday, becoming the third airline to maintain services between the two cities. AtlasGlobal will run four weekly flights to the Bosnian capital, each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, with its 164-seat Airbus A320 aircraft, featuring eight seats in business and the remaining 156 in economy class. Sarajevo becomes the carrier's second destination in the former Yugoslavia following Belgrade, which was introduced earlier this year. The General Manager of Sarajevo Airport, Armin Kajmaković, said, "We are delighted that AtlasGlobal, with its fleet of 26 modern Airbus aircraft, which flies to fifty destinations in 35 countries in Europe and Asia, has recognised Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina as a perspective leisure and business destination. With this scheduled service, passengers have even more options to fly to Istanbul, which is one of the biggest transfer points in the world". AtlasGlobal said it expects for the service to go daily as it sees potential on the market.

Vueling upgrades Dubrovnik service


Low cost carrier Vueling will extend its seasonal summer service between Rome and Dubrovnik into the winter months. Flights will operate twice per week past October 31 with an Airbus A320 aircraft. Tickets are already on sale through the airline's website. Initially, Vueling planned to run the route during the 2016/17 winter, however, those did not materialise. Croatia Airlines discontinued its year-round Dubrovnik - Rome service last year, and now maintains only summer flights between the two cities.