|Air Serbia to finalise transatlantic operations|
Air Serbia is expected to finalise its long haul transatlantic flight plans in just over two weeks time. According to the "Večernje Novosti" daily, the carrier's governing bodies will meet on September 17, when they are to make a decision on services to the United States. The Serbian government has earmarked New York as the airline's first long haul destination. However, it has also conceded that transatlantic flights are unlikely to generate profits in the first two years. "Afterwards these flights will be extremely profitable for our airline", Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić said recently. Services are expected to start in the first half of 2016, although the airline is yet to issue any official comment. There has been strong pressure from the state, as a majority shareholder, for the flights to begin.
Aviation authorities from the United States will perform their final checks on Serbia’s readiness to handle transatlantic flights this September. They will evaluate Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport as the point of origin for future long haul services. Mr Vučić said there are some concerns over the airport's ability to handle these flights, primarily in regards to quick baggage transfer. Air Serbia recently requested a foreign air carrier permit from the United States that, if granted, would enable the airline to provide scheduled and charter foreign air transportation of persons, property and mail on any and all routes authorised pursuant to the new US - Serbia Open Skies Agreement. In its application, the airline says it will first provide services to the United States through a codeshare agreement with Air Berlin via Germany, and could eventually offer its own flights. The United States Department of Transport is yet to make a decision on the permit request.
According to the Serbian government, an Airbus A330-200 will be leased for flights to the United States, at a cost of 500.000 USD per month. Last September, the President and CEO of Etihad Airways and Vice Chairman of Air Serbia, James Hogan, said the jet could be transferred to the Serbian airline from the Etihad Airways group. "Once flights begin, the Airbus A330 will be used. Etihad has the type in its fleet and it can be transferred to Air Serbia", Mr Hogan said. Similarly, Etihad initially sub wet-leased one of its A330s to Air Seychelles in 2012 in order for it to commence flights from the island to Paris. Through the arrangement, the Abu Dhabi-based airline provided its partner with crew and maintenance for the aircraft, while the lessor took the responsibility for supplying and operating the jet. Eventually, the deal was modified to a dry lease with Air Seychelles operating the aircraft with its own crew.