Air Serbia is satisfied with the results of its long haul service between Belgrade and New York, launched less than a year ago, but is exploring ways in which to further improve its transatlantic service. Speaking to EX-YU Aviation News, Air Serbia's CEO, Dane Kondić, said, “We have been pretty happy with the way it has been performing. The thing we haven't been happy about is the things that we can't control - prices in the market. We are not a price setter, we are a price taker". He added. “We have to follow the market and that is something we can't control. Our loads have been great, well in excess of anything we expected, but the market fares have been much lower than what we projected in our initial modelling. Therefore, in order to counter that, we have to do a better job of connecting more of our regional flights to our long haul service. We have some unique city pairs that other airlines don’t have, so that is an opportunity, especially in the off peak season. That however, is a challenge in itself, due to slot constraints at JFK that dictate the timings of these flights. So if you change something at this end, you lose other European to European connections”.
The President and CEO of the Etihad Aviation Group, James Hogan, said recently that Air Serbia's New York route is a "long-term investment" which will take several years to achieve its full potential. Mr Kondić echoed those words, adding, “It is a long-term game, especially for us since we are a non-aligned carrier flying across the Atlantic. We can't get as quick traction as other carriers who are part of SkyTeam, Oneworld or Star Alliance because they are part of a club that works together. Over 85% of transatlantic capacity is tied up in the 3 major airline alliances. Despite this, people need to remember that we have been flying to the US for less than twelve months and we are making great progress. Our cargo business for example, has been performing beyond expectations". He noted, "We have to make it work based largely on our own efforts. We are having discussions with a few airlines in the United States as well as other airlines in our region to see how we can better connect our flight with their networks. We will see what comes of that but I'm quite hopeful of a good outcome there”. Montenegro Airlines recently concluded a codeshare agreement with Air Serbia on flights to New York, which is pending final regulatory approval, while Turkey's Atlasglobal is set to follow suit.
Air Serbia will operate up to five weekly flights between Belgrade and New York this summer season, whereas three weekly services were maintained between the two cities for the better part of last winter, except over the Christmas/New Year peak, with four services per week. Commenting on the utilisation of the A330 jet during the winter months, Mr Kondić said, “What drives the economics of flying are the fares in the market. We are not going to fly an aircraft to lose more money than we would if it were parked on the ground. There is a reason why airlines ground aircraft, because the conditions in the market are such that while it is always possible to drive volumes and fly more people, in doing so, you need to be able to do so profitably. Going forward, as we continue to build momentum and connect more destinations and airlines to our JFK service, we will similarly see better returns”.