|Government confident in 2016 start for Belgrade - US flights|
Serbia and the United States are expected to finalise all necessary procedures by the end of the year in order for nonstop transatlantic flights to be launched from Belgrade in 2016, the Serbian Minister for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, said yesterday. The Serbian government approved a draft copy of a Bilateral Air Service Agreement with the States last Thursday. “We will sign the agreement in April. I have been authorised by the government to do so. Then we have to go through certain procedures and I expect for us to have an agreement for flights to the US by the end of the year, in particular to New York. We will discuss other destinations as well with Air Serbia”, Ms. Mihajlović said at a press conference.
Air Serbia has made it no secret that it intends to launch flights to the United States sometime over the next year. Although the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) upgraded Serbia to a category one status last year, allowing airlines registered in the country to operate flights to the US, 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 (DoT) makes a final decision whether to issue permits to airlines on a case-by-case basis. In October 2013, Delta Air Lines appealed to the DoT to reject a codeshare agreement between Air Serbia (then Jat Airways) and Etihad Airways on flights from Abu Dhabi to the US. At the time it said the two carriers had not been candid with the Department concerning Etihad’s ownership interest and effective control of Jat. It later filed a separate docket against the approval of codeshare flights between Air Berlin and Air Serbia on services from Germany to New York and Chicago. 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”. Ultimately, the DoT rejected Etihad’s and Air Serbia’s codeshare from Abu Dhabi and did not rule on the Air Berlin - Air Serbia application.
Despite previous difficulties, the Serbian government is confident its national carrier is within reach of launching transatlantic flights. “What is important is that we have the opportunity to even consider flights [to the United States] because we have passed a significant number of inspections and checks together with the Directorate of Civil Aviation and I am very pleased that we have done so with high marks”, Ms. Mihajlović said. She concluded, “Now we have to undergo this second and final part and I expect that we will know by the end of the year when flights will commence. We will also make a decision on flight scheduling”.