|Serbia and the US a step closer to new air agreement|
Serbia and the United States have reached an initial agreement to regulate air traffic between the two countries, marking an important step in Air Serbia’s ambitions to fly to the States in 2015. The Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate and the US Federal Aviation Administration have reached a principle agreement on all disputed provisions in order to modify their 1977 Bilateral Air Service Agreement. The new agreement will cover the basic framework under which airlines are granted economic bilateral rights to fly between the two countries. Yugoslavia and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 1989 which deals with frequencies, designated airlines of the two signing countries, origin and intermediate points, traffic rights, type of aircraft and tax issues. While Serbia has inherited the provisions of the Memorandum since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, it too will have to be updated in order for flights between the two countries to resume.
The Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate has said it will sign a final version of the new Bilateral Air Service Agreement in the coming weeks, after which it will have to be adopted by the legislative bodies of the two countries. In a statement made earlier this week, Air Serbia’s spokesman, Arsen Rudan, said, “When it comes to our long haul flights, we are currently undertaking a feasibility study and we have, on numerous occasions, said that we hope to launch these services by the end of 2015”. Earlier this year, Serbia was upgraded from a category two to a category one status by the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing airlines registered in Serbia 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. After the Bilateral Air Service Agreement is ratified, Air Serbia will have to apply for a license in order to launch flights. The two countries attempted to renegotiate the terms of their bilateral air agreement in 2004, without success.
Late last month, Air Serbia’s Chairman, Siniša Mali, reiterated the carrier’s plans to launch long haul flights next year, highlighting New York and Toronto as its first transatlantic routes. Commenting on the future flights, Mr. Mali said, “These services will not only improve relations between our countries and offer our diaspora better links to their homeland, they will also improve economic, cultural and sporting ties. At the same time, those in neighbouring countries will have an opportunity to transfer through Belgrade onwards to the United States”. The carrier’s Chairman believes the flights will be launched in late 2015, after all necessary permits are granted. Etihad Airways CEO and Air Serbia’s Vice-Chairman, James Hogan, has previously said Chicago is likely to become the airline’s first destination in the States.
The last time a Serbian-based carrier intended to operate flights to the United States was in January 2005 when Jat Airways applied for a permit, using a wet-leased and foreign registered aircraft in order to avoid bureaucratic issues. In its application with US authorities, Jat said, “JAT plans scheduled service to begin on May 1, 2005. Between May 1, 2005 and September 30, 2005, JAT will offer three roundtrip BEG-JFK flights per week, on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday, using wet-leased B767-200 aircraft configured to provide 204 economy class seats and 12 business class seats. The flights will depart BEG at 11:30 a.m., arriving JFK at 3:30 p.m., then departing JFK at 6:00 p.m., arriving BEG at 9:00 a.m. the following morning (all times are local). Between October 1, 2005 and April 30, 2006, only two roundtrips per week will be offered, on Friday and Sunday”. Furthermore, it requested for rights to fly to Chicago with the same amount of frequencies and similar timings. The application received support from United Airlines, however, it requested for the United States Department of Transport to limit the permit to 180 days. In the end, Jat Airways failed to secure a wet-lease arrangement and the flights never materialised.