The Serbian government has accepted a bid by the French consultancy company Lazard Freres SAS to provide management consulting services in the process of privatising the country's largest airport. The Serbian Ministry for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure said the deal with the consultancy firm, to be inked next week, will formally mark the start of the airport's privatisation process. "Early next week, an agreement will be signed with Lazard Freres SAS, after which an initial meeting will take place between members of the government, the airport and the selected advisor in order for the teams to get acquainted and prepare for the successful completion of the project plan", the ministry said. Lazard will charge 1.27 million euros for its consulting services and an additional 3.22 million for the successful conclusion of the privatisation process.
Lazard will also advise whether the airport should be fully privatised or put up for concession. The Serbian government has expressed hope to sell the airport for 500 million euros, however, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said the state should be more realistic with its expectations. For comparisons sake, Germany's Fraport purchased a 75.5% stake in Ljubljana Airport's operator for 144.1 million euros, and later paid 61.75 euros per share for the remaining 24.5% in the operator. The French concession and construction company Vinci has previously shown interest in vying for a concession of Belgrade Airport. In November 2014, the two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the development of joint projects. The MoU was also co-signed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Serbian counterpart. Vinci Airports Chairman, Nicolas Notebaert, has said, "Vinci Airports have an ambition to cooperate on the development of Belgrade Airport and other Serbian airports. We are interested in long-term partnerships". In 2014, Vinci lost out in a bid to acquire a majority stake in Ljubljana Airport.
Several parties have previously expressed their interest in taking part in a Belgrade Airport concession. Among them were the Greek based Copelouzos Group and the EBRD. In the summer of 2014, two companies from the United Arab Emirates, one of which is Arabtec Holding, the Persian Gulf’s largest construction company, expressed interest in taking part in a potential concession. However, it is believed that awarding control of the country’s main airport to a company from the Middle East, in addition to Etihad Airways’ part-ownership of Serbia’s national carrier, would not be looked upon favourably by the European Union, which Serbia is aspiring to join. The Serbian government holds an 83.2% stake in the airport which has 1.806 employees. Belgrade Airport ahndled a record 4.77 million passengers last year and is expected to post a net profit of 26 million euros.