|TAP cancels Belgrade flights from mid January|
Portuguese national carrier, TAP Portugal, has suspended ticket sales for its flights from Lisbon to Belgrade starting January 14, just five months since the route was initially launched. It comes as a result of poor loads. Belgrade becomes one of three causalities in TAP’s network from the new year, with its flights to Tallinn and St. Petersburg also to be suspended. Both were launched this summer as well. An airline spokesperson told the Portuguese press, “These routes performed well during the summer, but bookings for the coming months are not encouraging”. Due to an ongoing fleet shortage, TAP’s CEO, Fernando Pinto, said last week that the airline would cut down on its network instead of leasing additional short and medium haul jets.
Flights from Lisbon to Belgrade were inaugurated this July, linking the two capital cities for the first time with a three weekly service. During the winter season, triangle flights via Budapest were introduced, with the service maintained three times per week. An additional fourth weekly flight was to be added during the upcoming holiday season. The inaugural service from Lisbon to Belgrade carried 117 passengers on its Airbus A319, which has the capacity to seat 132 people. Despite solid loads over the summer months and a strong advertising campaign in Serbia, TAP was plagued by operational issues, forcing the cancellation of many of its Belgrade flights. They were caused by a delay in the arrival of new aircraft, pilot training and “negative influences beyond our control”, Mr. Pinto says. As a result, passengers were rerouted onto other Star Alliance member airlines.
TAP is yet to decide whether it will resume the service next summer. Flights from Belgrade to the Iberian Peninsula have proven difficult to fill throughout the year, with Vueling operating its Barcelona to Belgrade route on a seasonal basis. TAP becomes the third airline in three months to suspend all of its operations to the Serbian capital, following on from Germanwings and Etihad Regional. The latter also introduced flights to Belgrade this summer, only to suspend them several months later. The Portuguese government is looking to sell up to 66% of its indebted national carrier, following a failed attempt in 2012. The airline has debts of some one billion euros and the state is banned from injecting fresh capital under European Union rules. TAP has a very limited presence in the former Yugoslavia with its only other destination in the region being Zagreb, which will continue to be maintained.