Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport says preparations are underway for it to handle its second scheduled long haul service later this year. The airport's General Manager, Saša Vlaisavljević, noted, "We are expecting our second long haul route, which will be to Beijing. The service will launch in the second half of the year, although talks are still underway on the exact date". The HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines and another dozen carriers in China, has inked a letter of intent with the Serbian government to commence services between the two countries. Serbia's President Elect, Aleksandar Vučić, will travel to Beijing tomorrow where, he says, details of the new route will likely be made public on May 16 when he holds talks with the Chinese President and Prime Minister.
Hainan Airlines' Senior Vice President, Hou Wei, said that economic growth campaigns like the Belt and Road Initiative, of which Serbia is a part of, and various bilateral free trade agreements have led to a rise in people-to-people exchanges, which is spurring demand for flights to certain destinations. "Even though Hainan Airlines is a latecomer to the global market, pursuing a differential competitive strategy is necessary for the company, as other carriers have already scooped up many market resources", Mr Hou said. He added that traffic rights for routes connecting major cities are tight, so direct flights to second-tier cities are practical. On the other hand, HNA Group CEO, Huang Qijun, noted, "We will launch more routes connecting China with the Belt and Road countries and help our counterparts build and manage airports to improve local transportation services". The HNA Group is bidding as part of a consortium with China National Aero Technology for a 25-year concession for the financing, development, maintenance and management of infrastructure at Belgrade Airport.
Belgrade Airport's General Manager noted that the ongoing expansion and overhaul of its facilities will have it fully prepared to welcome a second widebody jet on a regular basis. "We are expanding capacity because there is a real need for it. Once the reconstruction of Terminal 1 is completed later this month, we will have 33 new check-in desks, including 28 standard ones and five self check-in counters for passengers to use at their disposal. The new check-in desks will be connected to a new baggage sorting system", Mr Vlaisavljević said. On the other hand, the Tourist Organisation of Belgrade said visitor numbers from China to Belgrade grew 124% during the first quarter, while the number of overnight stays increased 116%. "This gives us reason to be optimistic in the lead-up to direct flights from Beijing and we are certain numbers will further grow with the new service", the head of the Tourism Organisation added.