Competition among Gulf carriers in the former Yugoslavia will grow this summer with all of the MEB3 (Middle East Big 3 - Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways) to serve the region from June. As a result, new destinations, as well as capacity and frequency increases are planned.
Qatar Airways, which was the first of the MEB3 airlines to start flights to the former Yugoslavia has announced plans to boost capacity on its services to Belgrade and Zagreb this summer and launch operations to Skopje and Sarajevo. The carrier will add a further three weekly flights, for a total of seven, to the Serbian capital starting October 1. Furthermore, the airline will deploy its Airbus A320P jet on the route, which features 132 seats, with an improved premium product boasting twelve seats with 180 degree lie-flat capability in business class. In Zagreb, the Qatari carrier will increase capacity by replacing the smaller A320 with the A321 on its morning rotation from Doha. It will maintain ten weekly services between the two cities. Starting July 17, Qatar Airways will inaugurate flights to Skopje. Initially, the service was to operate three times per week and to be launched last year but was pushed back due to an ongoing fleet shortage. However, the airline has now upped frequencies for the planned service to four per week, but is yet to put tickets on sale. Furthermore, Qatar Airways will head to Sarajevo this year as well, although the launch date has not been set. The airline sold tickets between Doha and Sarajevo last year but discontinued sales due to a lack of available jets caused by late deliveries from aircraft manufacturers.
Emirates' arrival into Zagreb this June with its wide-body Boeing 777-300, offering seats in three classes on a daily basis, will shake up the competition. The airline will face off against Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, which currently carry 71% of all passengers flying between Croatia and the Middle East. In the last year, an estimated 330.000 passengers flew between Zagreb and markets across the Middle East, Asia and Australasia with single direction flows of around 30.000 from Zagreb to the Gulf nations, 45.000 to Far East Asia and over 50.000 to the Middle East, according to the AirVision Market Intelligence tool from Sabre Airline Solutions. Emirates believes the new flights will not only benefit travellers in Croatia, but also those in neighbouring Slovenia and even the southern regions of Hungary and Austria, making it more convenient to travel to Dubai and beyond. Scheduling means markets such as Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Melbourne, the Maldives, Seychelles and Sri Lanka can all be reached within a four hour transit window in Dubai.
Etihad Airways will continue to operate flights between Abu Dhabi and Belgrade this summer with its Airbus A320 aircraft on a daily basis, as well as a second daily service between the two cities operated through its equity partner Air Serbia. Through a wide-ranging codeshare agreement with the Serbian carrier, Etihad also serves Podgorica, Ljubljana, Tivat, Banja Luka and Sarajevo within the former Yugoslavia. Last year, Etihad increased capacity on its Belgrade route from the smaller A319 to the A320 aircraft.
Other Gulf carriers serving the former Yugoslavia this summer include Flydubai and Air Arabia. Flydubai plans to operate daily flights to Sarajevo from late June, four weekly to Belgrade and two weekly to Skopje. Furthermore, the carrier will launch operations to Montenegro. "The former Yugoslavia is an important market for Flydubai. Demand for these routes remains strong as passengers are able to travel to Dubai and beyond", the carrier told EX-YU Aviation News recently. Meanwhile, Air Arabia will resume seasonal flights from Sharjah to Sarajevo starting March 16. Services will operate daily during the high season, and three times per week during other times. Recently, Sarajevo Airport said, "There are plans for new flights to the Middle East, namely Kuwait, but we are still in the early stages of negotiations. Our analysis, which is undertaken on a regular basis, shows there is certainly room to expand in this area".