|US authorities to perform transatlantic flight checks in Serbia|
Aviation authorities from the United States will perform their final checks on Serbia’s readiness to handle transatlantic flights this September. According to the “Večernje Novosti” daily, a high ranking delegation from the States is set to visit Serbia in just over a month’s time to evaluate Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport as the point of origin for future long haul flights. Reportedly, American authorities are concerned over a security oversight last October when a large quantity of weapons, which were intended for export, went missing at Belgrade Airport’s warehouse. The issue will be raised during the September visit. Serbia’s Minister for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, previously said, “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”.
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. However, 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. Both Air Serbia and its part-owner Etihad, have maintained that flights to the United States could be launched if the numbers stack up and services prove viable. However, none have given firm time frames for the launch. On the other hand, the Serbian government has previously said that transatlantic services will be inaugurated either at the end of 2015 or during the first quarter of 2016.
Jat Airways’ last CEO, prior to the airline’s part-takeover by Etihad Airways, Velibor Vukašinović, says services to the US will be launched in 2016. “Air Serbia will most likely launch flights to New York or Chicago at the start of 2016”, Mr Vukašinović noted. Belgrade Airport says it is ready to welcome both wide body aircraft and additional passengers. “With the planned development in infrastructure, the airport will be ready for the announced long haul flights and will have the ability to handle an even greater number of transfer passengers”, the acting CEO of Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, Saša Vlaisavljević, said. The last time Serbia was linked with the US was in 2004 when Uzbekistan Airways operated flights from Belgrade to New York for a short period of time.
Last September, the President and CEO of Etihad Airways and Vice Chairman of Air Serbia, James Hogan, gave more detail on the potential flights. “Of course, it is planned for Air Serbia to enter the US market. For that to happen all conditions must be met and numbers must stack up. Once flights begin, the Airbus A330 will be used. Etihad has the type in its fleet and it can be transferred to Air Serbia. It’s important for the numbers to stack up and for us to choose the right moment and be ready. Regardless of whether flights launch in 2015 or 2016, we have to set off all that is necessary on the US market, such as tour operators and public relations, because it is important to distinguish the company apart from the former Jat”, Mr Hogan said. He added, “We are not aiming for our guests to be only Serbs visiting relatives and friends in their homeland but also others such as tourists and businesspeople who will fly with Air Serbia”.