|Montenegro Airlines slams Belgrade over fees as passenger numbers improve|
Montenegro Airlines has seen an upsurge in passenger numbers during the first seven months of the year, with a strong start to August as well. During the January - July period, the Montenegrin carrier welcomed 320.000 passengers on board its aircraft, an increase of 4% compared to 2014. “We managed to soften the expected passenger decline on the Russian market by boosting operations to Belgrade, as well as some western European destinations”, the airline’s Executive Director, Željko Banjević, says. During the first weekend in August, the carrier handled a record 7.990 passengers. “Last Saturday we had 3.890 travellers and on Sunday 4.100. Coupled with the 3.490 passengers on Friday, which is traditionally the busiest day of the working week, we handled 11.500 travellers on six aircraft with an average cabin load factor of 95%”, Mr Banjević adds.
Montenegro Airlines’ passenger numbers have improved in all three sectors – scheduled, charter and codeshare travel. Furthermore, the carrier expects for growth to continue in the coming months. Last year, the airline handled 557.000 passengers, a decrease of 5% on the year before. In addition, its losses amounted to 9.5 million euros. However, Montenegro’s Chief Commercial Officer, Predrag Marković, once again criticised Belgrade Airport’s decision to hike its fees, describing the measure as “an enormous increase which would impact even more financially stable carriers”. Mr Marković says, “The Belgrade route is of strategic importance for Montenegro Airlines. Despite numerous objections on our part, we were forced to sign an agreement knowing it would drastically increase our fees for handling, landing, lighting and the use of air bridges”. Belgrade Airport increased its fees for the airline last April by 1.3 million euros. “In 2011 we handled 220.000 passengers on 1.440 of our Belgrade flights, in 2013 250.000 on 1.470 flights and in 2014 255.000 travellers on 1.500 flights”, Mr Marković explains, arguing that the airline should receive discounts, as it has in the past, since it shuttles a significant number of passengers to and from the Serbian capital.
Montenegro Airlines recently began settling part of its 68 million euro debt and has agreed to repay money owed to the operator of the country’s two international airports - Podgorica and Tivat - amounting to 6.423.390 euros. The debt repayments will start on March 1, 2017 and will be made in instalments over 108 months. Earlier this year, the airline’s CEO, Daliborka Pejović, said the carrier would sign a strategic partnership agreement with Etihad Airways over the summer, which could potentially lead to the Emirati carrier buying a stake in the airline. However, asked to comment on the announced strategic partnership, an Etihad spokesperson told EX-YU Aviation News recently that the airline does not wish to make statements on plans of such nature. Furthermore, the Montenegrin Ministry of Transport and Maritime Affairs refused to comment on the issue as well.