The Chairman of the Air Serbia Supervisory Board and the Mayor of Belgrade, Siniša Mali, has said the airline is considering launching flights to Kazakhstan following talks with the regional governor of the central Asian republic's largest province of Almaty. According to Mr Mali, the service would strengthen relations between the two countries and improve business links. The talks come ahead of an official three-day state visit by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to Serbia which begins today. According to Mr Mali, further discussions on the potential new route will be held during the visit. Air Serbia has made no comments on the matter. Simmilarly, in February, Mr Mali announced that the Serbian carrier was eyeing services to Kiev and St Petersburg. The new routes were confirmed and launched several months later.
Almaty Airport is Kazakhstan's busiest, handling some five million passengers per year. The country's national carrier, Air Astana, maintains a base in the city offering flights to Europe and Asia. Several European airlines also serve Almaty, including Lufthansa, KLM, Aeroflot and Belavia, as well as Czech Airlines and Ellin Air on a seasonal basis. Serbian citizens do not need a visa to enter Kazakhstan. Furthermore, Serbia is one of only a handful of European countries that do not require Kazakhstani passport holders entry visas. Others include Macedonia, Albania, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Russia. Air Serbia's part-owner, Etihad Airways, will suspend flights to Almaty, along with Larnaca, at the start of the 2016/17 winter season this October. The carrier maintained three weekly flights to Kazakhstan's largest city with an Airbus A319 aircraft.
Currently, none of the national carriers from the former Yugoslavia operate flights to central Asia. Apart from potential transfer passengers, services between Belgrade and Kazakhstan could cater for Serbian workers and engineers who are involved in the development of several major infrastructure projects in the country, although whether this could be enough to turn the potential service into reality remains to be seen. Kazakhstan will host the major bi-annual international exposition Expo in 2017 with around two to three million people expected to visit the international pavilions from June to September next year.