Etihad Airways says it is “fully committed” to its 49% stake in Air Serbia following reports the Emirati carrier was considering reducing its share in the airline. “Speculation about a change to Etihad Aviation Group’s investment in and support for its equity partner, Air Serbia, is totally inaccurate and wholly unfounded. Etihad is and remains fully committed to Air Serbia and to the strategic partnership with Air Serbia’s majority owner, the Government of Serbia”, the Etihad Aviation Group said in a statement. It added, “Since its relaunch, just over three years ago, Serbia’s national airline has been transformed into a profitable, sustainable, and best-in-class, airline”.
The Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport, Construction and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, said yesterday that the government had no knowledge or information concerning the alleged withdrawal of Etihad Airways from its Europen equity investments, including its 49% stake in national carrier Air Serbia. Questioned on the matter, Ms Mihajlović said, "That's speculation. The Serbian government has not been informed of any plans that would involve Etihad decreasing its ownership stake in Air Serbia and neither has the Supervisory Board advised us of such plans, or Air Serbia itself for that matter". She added, "Whether there will be some managerial changes, I am not sure, and we will see in the days ahead. However, continued development and cooperation is important because Air Serbia has generated significant benefits for us". The Minister for Transport noted that the government has contingency plans in place. "Any sort of information we receive is discussed, be it positive or negative. It is important for us to always have a plan in place for the future. We have all possible strategies prepared concerning Air Serbia", Ms Mihajlović said. She added, "We have a very straightforward agreement with Etihad and clear rights and obligations of each shareholder". The Serbian airline is believed to have added $1 billion to the country's economy this year by providing 13.230 people with employment (both direct and indirect). Furthermore, Etihad is supporting 3.900 jobs through its operations in Serbia this year, which equates to an economic contribution of $45 million.
Over the past week, company and industry sources have said Etihad is reviewing its strategy of investing in European airlines in a shake-up that could lead to the departure group CEO James Hogan. It comes following investments in Air Berlin and Alitalia which continue to struggle financially. On the other hand, Air Serbia has posted two consecutive years of profit, while the Serbian government has proved cooperative with the Gulf carrier. Earlier this month, Etihad Aviation Group President and CEO, James Hogan, said the company was pursuing further investment opportunities in the Serbian aviation sector, while last week Air Serbia's Supervisory Board Chairman, Siniša Mali, said this could involve a stake in aircraft maintenance company Jat Tehnika. Etihad and the Serbian government signed a five-year investment and management agreement for Air Serbia in 2013.