|Qatar Airways upgrades Belgrade service|
Qatar Airways will launch nonstop flights between Doha and Belgrade on March 15, 2016. The service currently operates with an intermediate stop in Sofia. Flights will run four times per week, each Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and will be maintained with an Airbus A320 aircraft. Qatar Airways initially launched flights from Doha to Belgrade in late 2012 with a stop in Ankara. However, the airline was not issued fifth freedom rights to sell tickets between the Turkish and Serbian capitals. This March, the Qatari carrier moved its stopover to Sofia and boosted services to daily flights. Despite applying for fifth freedom traffic rights between Sofia and Belgrade, the airline was denied permission by Serbian authorities to sell tickets between the two cities.
Belgrade becomes the second destination in the former Yugoslavia to be served nonstop from Doha following Zagreb. Similarly, this year, Qatar Airways introduced five weekly nonstop flights to the Croatian capital, dropping its Budapest stop on the route, despite the airline holding fifth freedom traffic rights between the Hungarian capital and Zagreb. The carrier's nonstop service from Belgrade has been timed so as to offer passengers connections to other points in the Middle East, as well as Asia and Australia. Qatar is now better positioned to compete against the likes of Etihad Airways and Flydubai, which also serve the Serbian capital with a similar passenger structure. This June, Serbia abolished visa requirements for Qatari passport holders, becoming only the third European country to do so, after Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belarus, which is expected to boost point to point travel.
Qatar Airways is likely to expand services to the former Yugoslavia next year with both Sarajevo and Skopje being considered as potential destinations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina has confirmed that Qatar Airways plans to launch flights to Sarajevo and that final preparations are underway before the carrier officially announces the new service. Last month, the Senior Vice President for Aero Political, Industry, Regulatory Affairs & Alliances at Qatar Airways said his airline hopes to establish flights from Doha to Skopje next year as well. Since both its routes to Zagreb and Belgrade were initially served via another point in Europe, it is highly likely that Sarajevo and Skopje will also operate with an intermediate stop or that the two cities themselves will be linked by the Qatari carrier.