|Montenegro Airlines plans for new routes and better finances|
Montenegro Airlines is considering expanding its operations in the region with new flights to Croatia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, its CEO, Daliborka Pejović, says. New destinations could include Zagreb, Skopje and Pristina, among others, with the carrier also looking to strengthen its cooperation with airlines from neighbouring countries. Furthermore, the Montenegrin carrier is considering introducing charter flights to Prague next summer, as well as additional charters to Germany, namely to Hamburg and Munich. "In regards to existing scheduled services, there is a possibility that, as a result of encouraging trends, we could boost operations to Ljubljana, London and St. Petersburg", Ms Pejović says.
Montenegro Airlines suspended its daily service from Podgorica to Skopje Alexander the Great Airport in February 2011, without prior notice, when it was revealed the carrier had several thousand euros in unpaid debt towards Macedonia’s busiest airport. The airline denied such claims, maintaining the service was instead cancelled due to poor loads. Similarly, the carrier terminated flights to Pirstina on the same day after its aircraft was held up at the airport due to unpaid debt. However, it recently settled the outstanding sum. Previously, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s B&H Airlines operated flights from Sarajevo to Podgorica but the service was cancelled shortly after due to poor loads. Within the former Yugoslavia, Montenegro Airlines currently runs services only to Ljubljana and Belgrade. Recently it was announced that the airline would operate charters to Zadar to cater for Chinese tourists visiting Montenegro.
Commenting on the airline's poor financial state, Ms Pejović said the carrier is recovering and there is no fear of bankruptcy. "We are not even thinking about it [bankruptcy], but we are doing everything to minimise risks, and we have successfully done so. Cost cutting, optimisation, and maintaining a fair business relationship with our partners, while meeting our financial obligations, has boosted trust in our company", the CEO says. Montenegro Airlines recorded a net loss of 6.5 million euros during the first half of the year. Its net loss for the whole of last year amounted to 9.5 million euros, making it the least profitable national carrier in the former Yugoslavia. The airline’s debt currently stands at 71.5 million euros, which is down from the 82 million the current management inherited from its predecessors in mid-2013. Last year it was found that Montenegro Airlines had falsified financial reports and recorded smaller losses for several years leading up to the summer of 2013. No one has been held accountable, nor questioned in relation to these claims. Ms Pejović says some sixteen million euros in losses were covered up by the previous management. "It is important to note that all our financial reports are now genuine, balanced and objective", the CEO says.
The Montenegrin carrier handled 409.906 passengers during the first eight months of 2015, up 3.4% compared to the same period last year. Passenger numbers improved on most markets. Its service to Copenhagen saw the greatest passenger increase, up 41% on last year, followed by Ljubljana at 38% growth, London at 27%, Dusseldorf at 22% and services to Paris which improved 17%. The airline handled an additional 4.400 passengers during the January - August period on its busiest route, to and from Belgrade. However, passenger numbers on its flights to and from Russia have declined by 20% this year. The Russian economy has been hit hard by tumbling oil prices and sanctions, imposed on Moscow by western countries. The ruble has slumped 44% against the dollar in the last twelve months, making foreign travel more expensive for Russians.
Montenegro Airlines' CEO has made no comment on the airline's strategic tie-up with Etihad Airways which she announced in February. Instead, Ms Pejović now says, "We are constantly in talks with several airlines which have expressed interest in a strategic partnership with us, which would open up new markets for Montenegro Airlines". The CEO says that it is ultimately up to the government to decide whether it will privatise the carrier in the near future. The Montenegrin government has listed the airline for privatisation this year.