|Transatlantic flights expected to boost passenger numbers at Belgrade Airport|
Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport foresees a strong surge in passenger numbers following the launch of transatlantic flights from the Serbian capital next year. The airport’s Director for Development and Investment, Ana Luković, says the ultimate goal is to make Belgrade a regional hub. "We have seen a real boom since the national flag carrier was transformed. We expect to see another boom once long haul flights start”, Ms. Luković says. Passenger growth slowed in April, with Belgrade Airport estimating its figures will increase 5% in 2015 compared to last year when it added over a million passengers, making it Europe’s second fastest growing capital city airport.
According to Ms. Luković, the airport will spend fifteen million euros of its own funds in expanding Terminal 2 by building eight new gates and a new departures area. On completion in mid-2016, the terminal will be prepared to cater for long haul flights. "We are close to the limit of our capacities at the moment", she says. "That's why we decided to start a short-term investment cycle". Another two million euros will be invested in overhauling Terminal 1 and three million on new de-icing equipment. "Once this investment cycle is completed we will expand capacity to 7 - 7.5 million passengers a year", Ms. Luković concludes.
Serbia and the United States are expected to finalise bureaucratic procedures by the end of the year, which will pave way for the launch of transatlantic flights from Belgrade in 2016, the Serbian Minister for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, said recently.A new Bilateral Air Service Agreement between the two countries will be signed tomorrow. "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. Air Serbia has made it no secret that it intends to launch flights to the United States sometime over the next year.
Air Serbia’s predecessor Jat Airways conducted a study in late 2005 based on which it estimated it could carry up to 83.000 passengers to New York and Toronto on an annual basis. Jat Airways anticipated an average load factor of 74% and believed the flights would appeal primarily to diaspora travellers as well as transfer passengers from the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, western Romania, southern Hungary and the Middle East. Jat Airways planned to launch transatlantic flights in 2006 but was unable to do so due to Serbia’s category two rating by the United States Federal Aviation Administration. The country managed to secure a category one status last year, which is a prerequisite for launching flights to the States. JAT Yugoslav Airlines carried several hundred thousand passengers on scheduled services to the US and Canada each year during the late 1980s. Its numbers peaked in 1988 when it carried 227.663 travellers, of which 181.620 were between Yugoslavia and the United States and the other 56.043 between Yugoslavia and Canada.