Minister not held accountable for false claims
Earlier this month, Serbian press reported that the low cost Malaysian airline, AirAsia, was in the final stages of purchasing a stake in Jat Airways. Media reports suggested AirAsia had decided to turn Belgrade into its European hub point so as to carry passengers to Kuala Lumpur from where they would catch onward connections to Australia and Asia. In return, Jat would carry AirAsia passengers onwards to European destinations. The news was further given fuel when the Serbian Minister for Transport, Milutin Mrkonjić, confirmed that the government was in talks for AirAsia to buy Jat.
However, AirAsia CEO, Tony Fernandes, denied any possibility of a takeover only an hour after the minister made the grand announcement. Instead, AirAsia officials were in scouting missions in Europe, researching new markets, a common practice among airlines. The takeover talk soon faded from the headlines with Minister Mrkonjić not held accountable for his false statements. The issue once again illustrated the lack of interest the government has in solving the issues Jat is facing, which include an aging fleet which is becoming costlier to maintain by the day and high debt.
In 2010, Minister Mrkonjić announced that a Turkish takeover of Jat Airways was “a done deal”. There was even talk of transforming Jat into “Balkan Airways” which would have bases in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Podgorica and Skopje. Only several months later, when Turkish denied its interest in Jat, Mrkonjić announced, “With its current fleet Jat won’t be able to fly for more than a year”. In 2011, Mrkonjić was singing a new tune - Jat would be no more and Serbia would create a successor national carrier. After a failed privatisation attempt later in the year, the minister announced that Serbian businessmen would invest millions into the national carrier. Late last month, the minister announced yet another change in strategy. “The entire story with businessmen buying Jat won’t materialise. My proposal is for us to keep our national airline and for it to stay in state hands”, Mrkonjić said. Two weeks later the Minister was announcing an AirAsia takeover of Jat. Where will Jat go from here only Minister Mrkonjić knows. Or does he?
Do you think the Serbian government has a plan for its embattled national carrier? Can unfounded claims by state officials hurt the company? Send in your comments.