|Hogan: If numbers stack up Air Serbia heading to the US|
James Hogan, President and CEO of Etihad Airways, as well as Vice-Chairman of Air Serbia, spoke to EX-YU Aviation News in Zurich yesterday following a press conference dedicated to the airline’s newly launched service from Abu Dhabi to Switzerland’s largest city. In his comments, Mr. Hogan shed light on developments at Air Serbia as well as the carrier’s equity alliance strategy.
Mr. Hogan says he is “very bullish” about Air Serbia and its progress. “Danny Kondić and his team have done an excellent job in running Air Serbia. Results in the first quarter have exceeded the business plan. Air Serbia will break even at the end of 2014”. Mr. Hogan notes the Serbian carrier has launched a significant number of new routes over the past few months and has brought in new aircraft. Commenting on the recent agreement between Serbian and Turkish aviation authorities, which will see Air Serbia return to Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport later this year, Mr. Hogan admits Turkish Airlines has been dominant on the route but adds a return to Ataturk gives Air Serbia new opportunities.
An important issue which has been raised over the past few months are Air Serbia’s transatlantic aspirations. “I am very keen. We discussed this with the [Serbian] Prime Minister. We are doing a business plan. If the numbers stack up flights will maybe launch at the end of 2015”, Etihad’s CEO says. Furthermore, Mr. Hogan notes that Etihad is looking into Air Serbia’s former maintenance division Jat Tehnika, “We have our own line maintenance that we have established. We are looking and evaluating Jat Tehnika but that’s all we are doing at the moment”.
The CEO of the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates explains his airline has a different approach to that of its competitors. “Etihad has a different strategy to other airlines. We support organic growth with codeshare partnerships, investments in other airlines - were it makes sense - and deep collaborative agreements. Strategic investments in network partners are a key to our strategy. With Air Serbia it gives us strong links to the Balkan market. At the same time, we have strongly linked Serbia with Germany through our partner Air Berlin and linked Belgrade with longhaul flights through Abu Dhabi. The game plan is how to link connectivity”. Mr. Hogan adds Etihad has a long term outlook. “We are looking at how the world will change, how bilaterals will change, how markets will open up and how to advance forward”.
Touching upon criticism from the industry that in addition to equity investments Etihad also exercises effective control of its partners, Mr. Hogan responds, “I can’t sit in Abu Dhabi and manage a Swiss, German or Serbian business but I can be a strong and responsible shareholder. There is a strong local team running each airline. The game plan is how we build connectivity. Our segmentation is different to other transatlantic airlines. Our strategy is about being competitive”. He adds, “What’s important to us is how we knit our network with our partners, which allows us to be competitive. That is what passengers want. We are a responsible competitor and with our partners we aim towards profitability”. Mr. Hogan did not delve deeper into his airline’s ongoing talks with Alitalia over a possible stake in the embattled Italian carrier and how it will impact their equity investments, saying only, “We are in discussion with Alitalia”.