|US Ambassador: Transatlantic flights from Belgrade within a year|
The Ambassador of the United States to Serbia, Michael Kirby, has expressed his satisfaction with a new Bilateral Air Service Agreement signed between the two countries and noted that flights from Belgrade to the US will be launched within the next year. “I am delighted that we will have nonstop flights to the United States within the next year. Even if they are not operated by Air Serbia, I would be glad for it to be an American airline since it will be beneficial for both countries. All options are open, whether there will be flights to New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. These will be commercial services and airlines have to earn money”, Mr Kirby said. He added, “Last year we saw a big increase in air travel in Serbia and this [Air Service] agreement will allow for further growth”. The comments came after the Serbian Prime Minister, who begins an official visit to the US today, announced that transatlantic flights from Serbia will be launched in late 2015 or early 2016.
Prior to the launch of commercial services between the two countries, the United States has to be satisfied that Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport and the operating carrier meet its high standards. Furthermore, the US Department of Transport makes a final decision on whether to issue permits to airlines on a case-by-case basis. “The majority of conditions for flights to the United States have been met. Only some minor technical details are left to be fulfilled and our country is prepared to do so. We will fight on the market with US carriers and we want to win”, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said. He added, “This is a big and important signal for Serbia, which changes its position in the whole world, not just the region. Nowhere in the region are there nonstop flights to the United States and we hope to win over travellers from neighbouring countries to transit through Belgrade to New York and Toronto”. However, on June 22, SkyGreece Airlines will launch seasonal nonstop flights from Toronto to Zagreb.
Analysts stipulate Air Serbia will lease widebody jets from its part owner Etihad Airways for its flights across the pond, which could potentially hurt American carriers. Saj Ahmad, Chief Analyst at Strategic-Aero Research says, “Air Serbia will likely have to load a widebody jet or jets from Etihad if it seeks to start flights quickly to the USA”. He adds, “It’s possible Etihad will start codesharing, too, thus plucking more passengers onto its network, albeit at the expense of US carriers, so you can appreciate why some US airlines were dubious and concerned about Air Serbia being granted access”. In October 2013, Delta Air Lines appealed to the Department of Transport to reject a codeshare agreement between Air Serbia (then Jat Airways) and Etihad Airways on flights from Abu Dhabi to the US. The Department ruled in Delta’s favour, despite opposition from the UAE’s national carrier.
A former Jat Airways CEO, Predrag Vujović, who led the company during its transition from Yugoslav Airlines between 2001 and 2004, says the flights will cater primarily for the needs of Air Serbia’s part-owner Etihad. “All of this is being done so Etihad can place its code on the service to New York, since it can’t obtain additional permits”, Mr Vujović says. He adds, “We had nonstop flights from Belgrade to New York from September 2003 to mid-2004, meaning we had the necessary licenses. That was achieved without foreign partners and was the result of the work and knowledge of our experts. Underestimating their contribution is an insult”. Three of America's four largest airlines - American, United, and Delta - have teamed up with labour unions representing their workers to demand US government action against Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways. The key complaint from the American airlines is that their three competitors receive government subsidies that violate the terms of the existing Open Skies agreements between the US, the UAE and Qatar. Etihad has responded to the claims, releasing a report in which it says the US government has extended more than $70 billion in benefits to American, Delta and United airlines in the past fifteen years.