|Serbia threatens to limit Turkish Airlines flights to Belgrade|
The Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate has issued Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines a temporary license to operate scheduled flights between Istanbul and Belgrade until July 1, after which the two carriers could be forced to significantly reduce their operations to the Serbian capital. The move comes as a result of an ongoing spat between the aviation authorities from the two countries. Problems arose last winter after Air Serbia was issued early morning slots at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which the airline deemed unsuitable for its operations. It opted to relocate to the city’s second airport, Sabiha Gokcen, which offers fewer transit options for passengers. The airline has been attempting to return to Ataturk Airport ever since without much success.
An emergency meeting between the two sides is set to take place in Belgrade this week in an attempt to resolve the issue which has been ongoing since early this year. Turkey’s national carrier operates seventeen weekly services between Istanbul and the Serbian capital, however, the Directorate has warned these flights could be reduced to only a few per week if Air Serbia is not issued slots at Ataturk Airport. According to a bilateral air agreement between Serbia and Turkey, which is not being enforced, designated airlines from each country must operate the same number of flights between the two on a reciprocal basis. Besides Turkish Airlines’ seventeen weekly rotations, Pegasus Airlines also operates a further four weekly flights from Sabiha Gokcen while Air Serbia maintains seven weekly services. The Serbian carrier recently applied for slots at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport for the 2014 summer season but has still not received a reply from the airport operator.
Turkish Airlines has been proving a headache for many national carriers in the former Yugoslavia as it continues to expand throughout the region. The airline has squeezed out Croatia Airlines on its Istanbul flights, forcing it to cancel its service to Turkey’s largest city. Furthermore, Turkish has trumped B&H Airlines, which has been forced to reduce services to its signature route while the Turkish carrier dominates in Sarajevo. In addition, the airline has recorded strong passenger growth in Belgrade, showing no affects from Jat Airways’ transition into Air Serbia. Turkish Airlines handled 35.755 passengers on its flights to and from Belgrade in the first quarter, making it the fifth busiest airline at the airport. The ongoing aviation spat between the two countries only applies to scheduled flights. Charter operations between Serbia and Turkey remain unaffected.