|Air Serbia's long haul network to strengthen European operations|
The CEO of Air Serbia, Dane Kondić, has said that now is the best time to introduce long haul flights, adding that the airline will strengthen and feed its short haul network by launching services to New York this June. Speaking to the "TangoSix" portal at the Global Aerospace Summit in Abu Dhabi, Mr Kondić said, "The only right time is the one that works for you. We have figured that for our business, and our business model, we would reverse engineer it. Rather than go the traditional route of strengthening our short haul network to then go long haul, we figured that for us, at this juncture, it was better to go the other way - to launch long haul so that that could, in fact, strengthen our short haul network and provide feed on to our short haul network". Mr Kondić added, "The biggest single expense of flying long haul is the cost of fuel and given where fuel is today, if you were ever going to launch long haul flying now is the time to do it. First mover advantage will give us enormous benefit and we are all very excited and the planning continues to a successful launch on June 23".
Air Serbia's CEO noted that sales for the airline's service to New York have so far "exceeded expectations". The carrier plans to launch flights to the Big Apple with a single Airbus A330-200 aircraft. "In relation to one aircraft operation, there is always a risk of whether you got 1 or 100. The question is what's the contingency plan. That is always the issue here rather than how many aircraft you have. We are fortunate because of where we are. We have partnerships today with Air France, KLM, Alitalia, Air Berlin, Virgin Atlantic and LOT Polish. We have five good options there in the event that our aircraft goes tech. So, we have relatively easy access to ferry our passengers across partners to their final destinations in New York or beyond", Mr Kondić said. He added, "The bigger issue is what happens if the aircraft goes technical for more than one or two days, four, five days. We are fortunate because we have a strategic partner [Etihad Airways] who has an aircraft parked in the garage here, which is a A340-500, and that is at our disposal for as and when we should need it".
The head of Air Serbia defended the airline's decision to cut down on frequencies and capacity this winter season, which has had a knock on effect on its hub in Belgrade, which has seen its passenger numbers decline from October 2015 through to January this year. "The one thing that we have always had in our minds, from the very beginning, is a commercial mandate. Flying empty aircraft over the winter just to keep a schedule is crazy. So, last winter we had two years of experience behind us, meaning to say that we had two summers and two winters, and therefore we knew exactly where the pain points were in the network. As we have progressed on our journey, what has been critical has been focus on profitable operations. We took out capacity, for sure, and there was criticism from some that it was too much, we didn't break the connectivity, we certainly did lose some connectivity, but we pulled back frequency and so we tried to keep the integrity of where we flew relatively intact. The prime goal was to take out capacity to therefore boost our load factors", Mr Kondić explained. "Now, what's happened, we have had financial results for November and December and I can tell you that based on the previous year, we have had far more profitable operations - load factor increase of 4 - 5%, yield increases of about 9 - 10% and RASK (Revenue per Air Seat Kilometre) improvement of almost 20%. By any measure, I think it was a fairly smart, wise and good move", he concluded.
The full interview can be viewed below