Serbia to give easyJet the cold shoulder?
easyJet, which plans to launch flights from Milan Malpensa Airport to Belgrade from April 19, might be knocked back by the Serbian Ministry of Transport. The low cost airline has already started selling tickets for the flights where its only competition is Jat Airways. The Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate has given a “favourable opinion” for a license to be issued, however, the Serbian Ministry of Transport is expected to give the airline the cold shoulder. “easyJet is likely to get a response from authorities this week but no decision has been made. Low cost airlines that request a licence are usually issued one if circumstances permit. However, Jat Airways already operates on this route and we do not want to put the interests of our country and national airline in danger”, Milutin Popović, the Deputy Minister for Transport in charge of aviation said yesterday.
The Serbian government has adopted a more protectionist policy of its national carrier since deciding to restructure the company and provide finances for the purchase of new aircraft. In the past four years, since Serbia began implementing the Open Sky Agreement, all airlines wishing to fly to the Serbian capital have been issued a license. Several months ago, Pegasus Airlines from Turkey applied for a permit but was denied flying rights to Belgrade, only for them to request it again and to be issued one. Pegasus launched flights to the Serbian capital earlier this month. While Serbia is a signatory to the European Open Skies Agreement, which has the aim of liberalising flight procedures and authorisation, it is only in the first phase of implementing the agreement, making it under no obligation to issue licenses to every single airline wishing to fly to Serbia.
easyJet’s arrival would shake up Jat Airways’ existing monopoly on the Belgrade - Milan service. The Italian low cost airline, Air One, attempted to break Jat’s hold on the route late last year when it launched flights between the two cities. However, the service only lasted a few months before it was suspended in early January due to poor loads. Jat does good business on the route, with Alitalia code sharing on the service. The Serbian national carrier plans to operate five weekly flights to the Italian city this summer season. It runs services on the same days as easyJet, while the departure from Belgrade to Milan will be only fifteen minutes apart.