Air Serbia and Montenegro Airlines have established closer ties by inking a wide-ranging code share agreement, marking the first major development since the latter concluded a commercial strategic partnership deal with Etihad Airways last year. Following a decision made by Montenegro Airlines' Board of Directors to commence cooperation with Air Serbia, the two sides agreed for the Montenegrin carrier to codeshare on Air Serbia's flights from Belgrade to 32 destinations. They include Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Athens, Banja Luka, Beirut, Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Larnaca, London, Milan, Moscow, New York (pending regulatory approval), Ohrid, Paris, Podgorica, Prague, Sarajevo, Skopje, Sofia, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Tel Aviv, Thessaloniki, Tivat, Zagreb and Zurich. In return, Air Serbia will place its flight numbers and designator code on Montenegro Airlines' services from Podgorica and Tivat to Belgrade, as well as from the Montenegrin capital to Rome.
The President of the Montenegro Airlines Board of Directors, Daliborka Pejović, said in a statement, "The agreement with Air Serbia is an exceptional opportunity for helping us find a future strategic partner, which is the objective of the Privatisation Council of the Government of Montenegro". She added, "We believe that signing the codeshare agreement with Air Serbia is an extraordinary opportunity for the future of Montenegro Airlines. In doing so, we have opened the door of our national airline to enter Etihad Airways Partners, with airlines such as Alitalia and Air Berlin, which was an objective of the meeting held with representatives of Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi in February this year”. Montenegro Airlines' CEO, Zoran Kostić, said, "Statistics show that Podgorica is the final destination for 20% of Air Serbia's passengers from New York. Therefore, we are now able to concur markets which were previously unavailable to us".
In February, Etihad Airways presented its plans to return Montenegro Airlines to profitability and improve the carrier's overall business. Etihad's plans outline for Montenegro Airlines to significantly boost frequencies on profitable routes and improve its overall fleet efficiency. Furthermore, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates identified codeshare partners which would give Montenegro Airlines access to an additional fifty destinations. 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 measures are expected to increase passenger numbers, support the local tourism industry and generate a profit for the carrier in a relatively short period of time.
Late last year, the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, said that Air Serbia is considering regional acquisitions. "I believe that in the coming period Air Serbia will acquire an airline from the Balkans. This will be the next major piece of news. Were there no political obstacles, Air Serbia would have already acquired two or three companies in the region", Mr Vučić said at the time. Furthermore, the Serbian Minister for Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Policy, Aleksandar Vulin, said Montenegro Airlines' operations could be run out of Belgrade following negotiations between the carrier and Etihad. Etihad Airways itself has stakes in eight airlines, four of which are in Europe, including Air Serbia. Its partner Alitalia is now pursuing a stake in Air Malta.