|Montenegro Airlines and Etihad to begin commercial cooperation|
Montenegro Airlines and Etihad Airways have signed a long awaited Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Strategic Commercial Cooperation. The deal gives Montenegro Airlines access to Etihad’s global network of destinations and will allow the airline to use the Emirati carrier’s resources in order to improve fleet utilisation during the slow winter months. Furthermore, Montenegro will forge closer ties with Etihad's partner airlines, while the Abu Dhabi-based carrier will also assist in overhauling Montenegro Airlines' organisational structure which will, in turn, lead to greater efficiency. The new partnership is also set to boost synergies between the two carriers, providing Montenegro Airlines access to benefits enjoyed by Etihad and its partners on the market, the Montenegrin carrier said, adding that the MoU marks the first step towards a full strategic partnership .
Despite the agreement, Montenegro Airlines, which has been shortlisted for privatisation this year, will remain in state hands. The airline expects for the commercial cooperation to boost its passenger numbers and lead to profitability. Montenegro Airlines has been facing financial difficulties for years. It reported a net loss of 6.5 million euros during the first half of 2015, with its accumulated debt at 71.5 million euros. It handled 409.906 passengers during the first eight months of 2015, up 3.4% compared to the same period last year. Earlier this year, media reports suggested Etihad was looking to support growth in its two equity partners - Air Serbia and Alitalia - through Montenegro Airlines. As a result, the development of the Montenegrin carrier would be complimentary to that of its partners in the region. Furthermore, it was reported Etihad had proposed to transfer one of Montenegro's four Embraers to Alitalia, although these claims have not been confirmed by either side.
Talks regarding Etihad’s involvement in Montenegro Airlines have been ongoing for over a year. Initially, the country’s Foreign Minister, Igor Lukšić, met with Etihad’s CEO, James Hogan, in Abu Dhabi in May 2014 after which he announced that the Emirati carrier would screen the Montenegrin airline. Discussions were again held in Abu Dhabi earlier this year where Serbia’s Deputy President for Cooperation with the UAE, Mladjan Dinkić, credited for finalising Etihad’s takeover of Air Serbia, headed the talks. “This partnership [with Etihad] is important and will further stimulate Montenegro’s openness and accessibility, serving as the foundation of the country’s transport network”, Ms. Pejović said earlier this year.