|Serbian and Turkish protectionism threatens thousands of holidaymakers|
The fallout from the Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate’s (CAD) decision to block two Turkish charter airlines from operating to Belgrade this summer is deepening. According to the “Večernje novosti” daily, Turkey, which is due to respond to Air Serbia’s request to carry through with charters this season, has threatened to block the carrier from doing so. The airline’s dedicated charter brand, Aviolet, plans to run flights to Antalya, Dalaman and Bodrum in Turkey this summer on behalf of tour operators. The Serbian CAD has issued a permit to Turkish Airlines to run charter flights from Antalya to Belgrade, while applications made by Corendon and Freebird Airlines have been rejected. The CAD has shifted responsibility onto the Ministry for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, saying it issues permits to charter carriers based on the advisory opinion of the ministry. An Egyptian charter airline, Nesma, has also been blocked by the Directorate.
Tour operators have begun cancelling holiday packages as issues with charter carriers persist. The two hardest hit operators, Argus Tours and 1A Travel, have accused the ministry of protectionism, adding that Air Serbia and its charter brand Aviolet do not have the necessary capacity to handle the amount of bookings already made. The Assistant Minister, Zoran Ilić, said in a statement yesterday, “We will see what sort of response [Turkish authorities] will give Air Serbia. It is all a matter of reaching an agreement between the regulators and interested carriers from both countries. Until that agreement is reached, not a single foreign carrier will receive permits from us this summer”. The Assistant Minister then admitted it is all a matter of protectionism. Mr. Ilić says that up until now, the Serbian national carrier held an 80% share of all charter flights to Turkey, adding that this commanding stake is now under threat. According to Mr. Ilić, Turkish carriers are creating unfair competition on the market. He insists Air Serbia should be the primary carrier for Serbian holidaymakers. Furthermore, he states that Turkish charter carriers have been trying to pressure the ministry through Serbian tour operators and other diplomatic channels. Mr. Ilić maintains that these carriers were never interested in finding a solution to the issue. The minister herself, Zorana Mihajlović, has stayed silent on the growing problem.
It is not the first time that Serbia and Turkey have been at loggerheads over leisure flights. In 2009, Turkish authorities temporarily revoked Jat Airways’ permit to operate charters to the country after the Serbian CAD blocked Atlasjet from running flights between Antalya and Belgrade. Holidaymakers were rebooked onto scheduled flights to Istanbul and the issue was later settled after a compromise was reached a month later. The Serbian National Association of Travel Agents (YUTA) has called on both sides to settle the issue. “I’m afraid this will put all charters into question. I don’t believe the Turks have a reason to be angry since Turkish Airlines has received permits for a number of flights”, the head of YUTA, Aleksandar Seničić, said. He added, “We just want this to be resolved so holiday makers can get what they paid for”.