|Banja Luka extends Air Serbia subsidies while failing to attract new airlines|
Banja Luka Airport has been unsuccessful in its bid to find new customers despite talks with several low cost airlines earlier this year. The airport explains that negotiations with no frills carriers are generally more "complicated, difficult and long", as they require financial backing. However, the government of the Entity of Republika Srpska yesterday announced the extension of a subsidy agreement with Air Serbia for the carrier's flights between Belgrade and Banja Luka. The government has required for the public operator of Banja Luka Airport, Airports of Republika Srpska, to extend a ground handling agreement with the Serbian national carrier. In a press release, the government said the operator will cover Air Serbia's airport costs and fees from January 1, 2016 until the end of the year, on December 31. The subsidies will be provided from the state budget, although the exact figure was not made public.
Air Serbia launched daily flights between the Serbian capital and Banja Luka in December 2013. The service, which is codeshared by Etihad Airways, will be maintained this winter just three times per week. The Serbian airline is Banja Luka's only customer since B&H Airlines, which ran flights between Banja Luka and Zurich, suspended all operations in June after temporarily losing its Air Operator's Certificate. During the first seven months of the year, Banja Luka Airport handled 13.393 passengers, a decrease of 18.3% compared to the same period in 2014. Earlier this year, Edelweiss Air, a Swiss International Air Lines subsidiary, was to launch flights from Zurich to Bosnia and Herzegovina's second largest city, however, it suspended ticket sales shortly after publicising the new route.
Since 2013, the airport has been in drawn out negotiations with Wizz Air. Two years ago, the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure of the Entity of Republika Srpska, Nedeljko Čubrilović, commented on the talks with Wizz Air by saying, “Unfortunately we were unable to agree to the terms set by the airline. It’s not as it looks. They aren’t coming here to give us anything, they want to come here to take something. During negotiations they were very difficult over handling prices so we would not benefit from them in any single way”. Over the past few years, Banja Luka Airport has been in talks with several other airlines, including Aegean from Greece and Austrian over potential flights to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s second largest city. However, none of the recent negotiations have materialised into new services and better connectivity for the public.