Monday, May 21, 2018

Serbia seeks Japan flights

Serbia has become the latest country in the former Yugoslavia to initiate talks over the introduction of nonstop flights to Japan, following on from Slovenia and Croatia over the past month. The Serbian Minister for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, said after talks with the Japanese Ambassador to Serbia, that a new bilateral Air Service Agreement between the two countries will be inked in the near future in order to facilitate the introduction of new services. The future operator of Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, VINCI, holds a concession, as part of a consortium with Japanese partners, for two airports in Osaka, and this year added Kobe Airport to its portfolio. VINCI has said it plans to link Belgrade with a number of its other airports across the world.

Serbia and Japan do not require visas for each others' nationals. In 2017, there were 5.769 Japanese visitors to Serbia, which, although light, was still ahead of arrivals from much closer markets such as Portugal, Finland and Ireland. In 2016, All Nippon Airways (ANA) expressed initial interest in operating flights between Japan and Belgrade, however, no concrete agreement was reached and the services never materialised. The National Tourism Organisation of Serbia recently held talks in Tokyo with Japanese tour operators, the country’s tourism board, as well as the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Japan-Southeast Europe Business Association in a bid to boost travel between the two countries.

The Serbian Ministry for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure is aiming to attract more medium and long haul flights to the country in an effort to improve tourism and connectivity. It has identified several markets which hold potential to generate inbound or outbound travel from Serbia in the form of seasonal or charter flights, including Japan, Canada, India and South Korea, as well as further opportunities in the United States and China. Commenting on its upcoming plans, Ms Mihajlović said, "In the coming period we expect even more new flights from Belgrade Airport, which will link us with previously unserved markets and in turn boost tourism". Last year, Belgrade Airport identified counterparts in Zagreb and Budapest as its main competitors to securing long haul services. In a statement at the time, it said, "Our aim is to become a gateway for long haul flights in Southeastern Europe to North America, China and Asia, as well as to introduce new routes to the Euro-Mediterranean region and strengthen our regional connectivity, which would, in turn, help increase loads on flights to the abovementioned markets. The main competitors in achieving these goals are first and foremost Zagreb and Budapest".

Tuzla Airport maintains growth


Bosnia and Herzegovina's second busiest airport, Tuzla, continued its growth streak into April by handling 52.638 travellers during the month, representing an increase of 3.7%. Overall, during the first four months of the year, the airport welcomed 172.289 passengers through its doors, up 33% on the same period in 2017. Wizz Air, which has two aircraft based in the city, launched five weekly flights from Vienna to Tuzla at the end of April, although these have now been reduced to three per week. Furthermore, the budget airline will introduce services from Tuzla to Baden Baden next month, while Turkey's Freebird Airlines will run summer charters from Antalya to the Bosnian city starting in June.

MonthPAXChange (%)
JAN40.563 52.8
FEB35.976 55.7
MAR43.112 48.1
APR52.638 3.7

FlyBosnia crew prepare for launch


Future cabin crew of the Sarajevo-based start-up FlyBosnia have completed their training ahead of the carrier's planned launch. Out of 300 applicants, a total of ten female and five male cabin crew were selected and trained. They were awarded certificates after completing their course at a recent ceremony in Sarajevo. FlyBosnia has previously said it plans to commence operations on June 10, however, it is yet to be granted an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) by the local regulator. The airline is expected to use a Nesma Airlines Airbus A320 in order to commence operations to Riyadh this summer.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Split to make terminal move by year's end

Split Airport staff will move to the new multi million euro terminal building, currently under construction, by the end of the year. With 50% of the work already completed, the airport's Assistant Director, Pero Bilas, said, "Construction should be finalised by the end of the year. We plan to make the move from the old to the new terminal during the winter because a lot of complex equipment needs to be tested, which is better done during the slower months". He added, "As a result, we will move to the newly built facility with all our operative departments in the winter so work on the overhaul of the existing terminal can begin".

The 59.7 million euro project is progressing on schedule. A new car park and bus terminal, which have the capacity to accommodate 900 vehicles over an area of 35.500 square metres, have been completed, while a 120-metre-long enclosed pedestrian overbridge linking the area with the terminal building over the state road is nearing completion. Preparations are underway to mount the steel roof over the terminal building and work on the installation of the baggage handling system is currently in progress. The new terminal building will feature thirty check-in desks, six gates, a new automated baggage sorting facility and five carousels, restaurants, an observation deck and a business class lounge.

Passengers are expected to start using the new facility next summer season. Upon completion, Split Airport will have the capacity to handle 3.5 million travellers per year. During the first four months of 2018, Split welcomed 241.845 passengers, representing an increase of 14.4% on last year. In April alone, the airport handled 124.352 travellers, up 0.9% on 2017. There are over four million seats on sale this year to and from Split with the airport projected to handle over three million passengers.

MonthPAXChange (%)
JAN33.699 10.8
FEB30.629 28.0
MAR53.165 57.2
APR124.352 0.9

TRIP REPORT: Air Canada, San Francisco - Toronto


Airline: Air Canada
Route: SFO – YYZ
Trip taken: March 2018
Scheduled time: 4 hours 48 minutes

Air Canada (this was not Air Canada Rouge flight) operates San Francisco – Toronto route with a variety of equipment. This flight was operated by a wide body Boeing 767-300ER. At the time of thistrip, Air Canada had 10 763’s in the fleet ranging in age from approximately 27 to 30 years. It is equipped with 24 business class seats similar to Air Serbia A330 business class seats and 187 economy class seats.

San Francisco International Airport is one of the top 10 airports in the US with more than 55 million passengers in 2017. It has four terminals including International Terminal used for this flight. Airport’s unique location by the San Francisco Bay and four runway operations provide scenic backdrop for enjoying side-by-side parallel departures and arrivals. On the day of the trip SFO was operating using the typical West Plan with runways 28L and 28R for parallel arrivals and runways 1L and 1R for parallel departures.

Boarding was orderly with assigned seating zone boarding policy. Flight was full or almost full yet boarding went smooth due to efficient two aisle, 2-3-2 seating. Shortly afterwards I experienced another Air Canada zoned boarding to a full, 450 seat Boeing 777-300ER that can best be described as a zoo, despite valiant cabin crew effort to manage boarding in a dense 3-4-3 configuration.

For this SFO-YYZ flight I opted for a Standard Tango Economy pricing tier, out of five economy class fare tiers. While Air Canada is almost never described as a hybrid airline, this traditional mainline started offering choice to consumers while increasing their revenue. Standard Economy fare does not include any food or snacks, checked baggage and seat selection are also not included. That gave me an opportunity to customize this medium haul flight to my taste. I chose to add one checked bag for about 17 EUR, beef sandwich and snack combo for about 6.5 EUR and exit row seating with extra legroom for about 41 EUR. For a total of only 65 EUR (price per one way leg, not return trip) I increased comfort and selected options that are important to me.

Takeoff from Runway 1L was smooth, banking to the left to provide nice view of the city and the bay.
Service was efficient, courteous and professional, with crew accepting only credit cards for buy on board payments. Cash is not accepted. Without any purchase, economy service on this flight with a block time of 4:48 includes only a free water or a soft drink.

After almost three decades in the air this plane shows its age. Wi-Fi service is not available on AC 767 fleet. While Air Canada’s Thales in-flight entertainment system has a good selection of recent media content, IFE and seating are a step back from superior Panasonic eX3 system and newer seats available on Air Canada 777 and 787 aircraft. Mood lighting is intense and not to everyone’s taste.
Most of this generally smooth flight aircraft spent cruising at 37,000 feet, making it to Toronto before scheduled time. Air Canada in Toronto uses modern Terminal 1 facility with organized but still long lines for passport checkpoint.

Less known fact: Air Canada allows travelers as young as 12 to be seated in the exit row.

Summary: Enjoyable flight and service, with aging cabin interior as a minor negative.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Aegean maintains Skopje launch plans

The Greek government has confirmed that Aegean Airlines will go ahead with its plans and launch services between Athens and Skopje this year, marking the resumption of flights between the two cities after more than a decade. Greece's Alternate Minister for Foreign Affairs, Georgios Katrougalos, confirmed that the service will be introduced by year's end. The Greek carrier announced last October it would resume flights to Skopje in June of 2018 but has since told EX-YU Aviation News that "Aegean has conditioned its operation in Skopje to the resolution of certain contentious issues". It added, "When and if the Hellenic Republic assures us that such issues have been resolved, we will indeed begin operations".

The Greek government is set to give the all clear for Aegean to commence the new service to Skopje in the near future. Mr Katrougalos noted, "We see this as a positive development, like every measure that promotes economic cooperation between our two countries. This route will become operational during the course of the year". Skopje Airport's name posed as one of the main obstacles for Aegean to resume operations between the two capitals. Formerly known as Alexander the Great, the airport was renamed in March. Skopje was Aegean's first scheduled international destination back in 2003, however, flights were discontinued in 2007 as relations between Macedonia and Greece deteriorated.

Aegean Airlines is continuing to grow its network in the former Yugoslavia for a fourth consecutive year in 2018. Besides its planned Skopje service, the carrier recently launched operations to Zagreb and will introduce services to Zadar next week, while there will be further capacity and frequency upgrades on its other destinations. The Greek carrier is now also considering introducing seasonal summer flights to Sarajevo in 2019. "The former Yugoslav region is an important market for Aegean Airlines. Demand for these routes remain strong as passengers are able to travel to Athens and beyond. Our performance is satisfactory on this market, as is the cooperation we have with partner airlines in the region. Almost all flights from the former Yugoslav republics to Athens offer very good point to point coverage, as well as access to thirty Greek domestic destinations, connections to Cyprus and destinations in the Middle East and Southern Italy, which have proved popular with passengers from the Balkan region. Aegean is considering increasing frequency on existing routes as well as adding further destinations in the region", the airline previously told EX-YU Aviation News.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Air Serbia's passenger share tumbles

Air Serbia has seen its passenger share at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport decline during the first quarter after rolling out a set of unpopular cost cutting measures and reducing its number of flights. According to Belgrade Airport's quarterly report, the Serbian carrier recorded a passenger share of just 40%, well down from over 47% registered last year. Although not indicated in the report, the airline's passenger numbers are believed to have fallen some 12% from 453.859 during Q1 2017, which was its busiest first quarter since the airline was relaunched in 2013. Over the January - March period of this year, Air Serbia operated some 5.800 flights, down 8% on 2017. At the same time, foreign carriers maintaining services to Belgrade grew their passenger share to 60% and accounted for 51% of all flight operations.

The future operator of Belgrade Airport, VINCI, has said it anticipates for Air Serbia to hold a passenger share of between 40% - 46% on an annual level. The company is facing headwinds and intense competition, in particular from low cost carriers that are increasingly moving in on routes which were previously solely operated by the national airline. In 2017 it faced no competition on 21 scheduled routes, down from 26 the year before. Lately, it has been directly challenged on a number of its services including Amsterdam, Prague, Malta, Larnaca and Tel Aviv. This list will soon grow to include Berlin. Air Serbia recently warned that a "flood of low cost carriers" would enter its home market in the near future.

The airline is also facing growing indirect competition from low cost carriers at Niš Airport in the country's south-east. Last year, just over 7% of all passengers departing Constantine the Great Airport hailed either from Belgrade or the northern province of Vojvodina. Meanwhile, Wizz Air will commence operations from Vienna to Niš this November with its 220-seat Airbus A321 aircraft, further challenging both the Serbian and Austrian national carriers which maintain services between Belgrade and Vienna. Over the past five months, Air Serbia has transitioned into a hybrid full fare - low cost carrier, which has been largely met by a negative response from the flying public. The airline's CEO, Duncan Naysmith, recently said, “Technology has completely transformed the way people travel in the 21st century, and the ability to have a tailor-made travel experience has been central in this process. Measures, such as unbundling air fares, has enabled Air Serbia to better compete and offer more value, while retaining all its differentiating hallmarks, including the fact that we fly to primary airports, run a frequent flyer program, operate a Premium Lounge, provide seamless codeshare flight options through Belgrade and much more”.