|Air Serbia expected to launch flights to the US in 2016|
Air Serbia aims to become the first airline in the former Yugoslavia to resume services to the United States. The carrier’s Vice-Chairman, James Hogan, has said he expects Air Serbia to commence transatlantic flights in late 2015 or early 2016 if a feasibility study, currently under way, shows that such services are financially sustainable. “We will launch new routes and Chicago is the first destination we are thinking of. It is a logical choice since it is home not only to the largest Serbian diaspora but also others from the former Yugoslavia”, Mr. Hogan noted recently. Serbia’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, said in October last year that Air Serbia will inaugurate services to Chicago and Toronto in 2016 using an Airbus A330. Earlier this month, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) upgraded Serbia from a category two to a category one ranking, allowing airlines registered in the country to operate flights to the US. However, the upgrade does not grant the national carrier, or any other airline from Serbia, rights to operate services to the United States by default. The FAA's foreign assessment program focuses on a country's ability, not the individual air carrier, to adhere to international standards. The US Department of Transport makes a final decision whether to issue permits to airlines on a case-by-case basis.
Analysts say Air Serbia will lease widebody jets from its part owner Etihad Airways for its flights across the pond, which could potentially hurt American carriers. Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at Strategic-Aero Research says, “Air Serbia will likely have to load a widebody jet or jets from Etihad if it seeks to start flights quickly to the USA”. He adds, “It’s possible Etihad will start codesharing, too, thus plucking more passengers onto its network, albeit at the expense of US carriers, so you can appreciate why some US airlines were dubious and concerned about Air Serbia being granted access”. Others believe the national carrier still has a way to go before launching transatlantic flights and must expand its reach within the region and upgrade facilities at its hub airport for transit passengers. Flights to the US would also require much preparation as the market is highly seasonal with plenty of early bookings and tickets being purchased as much as a year in advance.
Earlier opposition from US-based carriers and organisations indicate a difficult road ahead for Air Serbia and its ambitions to launch flights to the States. In October 2013, Delta Air Lines appealed to the Department of Transport to reject a codeshare agreement between Air Serbia (then Jat Airways) and Etihad Airways on flights from Abu Dhabi to the US. It said, “JAT and Etihad have not been candid with the Department in their characterisation of the facts concerning Etihad’s ownership interest in and effective control of JAT. JAT and Etihad bear the burden of addressing these issues in a forthright manner, particularly given that the proposed services would be the product of market-distorting, anticompetitive state subsidies from which both Etihad and JAT benefit”. In a separate docket filed that month concerning codeshares between Air Serbia and Air Berlin, Delta said, “JAT has no underlying economic authority to serve the United States”. Etihad responded to these allegations by saying, “No US carrier, let alone Delta, directly serves the US-Serbia market, and no US carrier (save for Delta) opposed these applications. It is essential to note that even though US carrier interest in these applications may be limited, the interests of Serbia and Abu Dhabi are not”.