The Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vučić, announced yesterday that the country’s national carrier, Air Serbia, will launch flights from Belgrade to New York next year which will operate five times per week. The comments were made following a meeting of the airline’s Supervisory Board, the PM said. In a statement to the “B92” network, Mr Vučić noted, “It is very important that we held a meeting of the Air Serbia Supervisory Board, and that, in addition to the excellent results which have made it the leading carrier in the region, we concluded that we will fly to New York five times per week next year”. He added, “Even from Athens there are no flights to New York despite the city being double the size of Belgrade. From Belgrade there will be flights to New York, not to mention that we already have on board Wi-Fi and other services which set our airline apart from other carriers in the region”. Athens is in fact served seasonally from New York by Delta Air Lines.
Air Serbia itself has not committed to any dates or frequencies to the United States. However, in February, the airline’s CEO, Dane Kondić, told “The Australian” daily that he hoped to realise transatlantic flights within the next twelve to fourteen months, but noted, “In terms of Belgrade and Serbia re-emerging in the world, it’s a natural ambition for the country to want to reconnect to many of the markets and places that they used to fly but Air Serbia has no aspirations to fly all over the world the way Jat Airways used to”. Later on, in May, the airline said it was studying potential flights to the US but that no decision has been made.
In August, Air Serbia applied for a permit from the United States Department of Transportation (DoT), stating, “While Air Serbia initially proposes to provide scheduled air service from Belgrade to New York, Chicago and Miami pursuant to a codeshare arrangement with Air Berlin, Serbia’s recent achievement of Category 1 status under the FAA’s International Air Safety Assessment Program makes it possible for Air Serbia eventually to provide its own service to the United States”. Caitlin Harvey, from the DoT, recently told EX-YU Aviation News that Air Serbia’s application is “under active Department consideration”, adding that the processing time for applications varies from case to case. According to the Serbian government, an Airbus A330-200 will be leased for the flights, at a cost of 500.000 USD per month. Last September, the President and CEO of Etihad Airways and Vice Chairman of Air Serbia, James Hogan, said the jet could be transferred to the Serbian airline from the Etihad Airways group.
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The Serbian government will resume plans to privatise its busiest airport at the end of this year or in early 2016. The Minister for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, said yesterday that the country will hire a consultancy firm to advise and suggest the best privatisation model. “It must be an internationally acclaimed consultant with vast experience in this field”, Ms Mihajlović said, adding that the state’s share in the airport will be offered to foreign investors through an international tender. The Serbian government has previously failed to meet several key deadlines it set relating to the airport’s future. Five months have passed since it planned to create a state-run operator to manage up to 25 of the country’s airports. The Serbian government holds a 83.2% stake in the airport, which has 1.806 employees.
The French Ambassador to Serbia, Christine Moro, said on Monday that a French company is extremely interested in taking part in Belgrade Airport’s privatisation process. The French concession and construction company Vinci has previously shown interest in vying for a concession of Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. In November last year, Vinci signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Belgrade Airport for the development of joint projects. The MoU was also co-signed by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vučić. Vinci Airports Chairman, Nicolas Notebaert, has said, “Vinci Airports have an ambition to cooperate on the development of Belgrade Airport and other Serbian airports. We are interested in long-term partnerships”. Last year, Vinci lost out in a bid to acquire a majority stake in Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport.
In the summer of 2014, two companies from the United Arab Emirates, one of which is Arabtec Holding, the Persian Gulf’s largest construction company, expressed interest in taking part in a potential concession of Belgrade Airport. However, it is believed that awarding control of the country’s main airport to a company from the Middle East, in addition to Etihad Airways’ part-ownership of Serbia’s national carrier, would not be looked upon kindly by the European Union, which Serbia is aspiring to join. Several parties have previously expressed their interest in taking part in the concession. Among them were the Greek based Copelouzos Group and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Documents signed between the Serbian government and Etihad Airways, for the latter’s minority takeover of Air Serbia, show that the Serbian national carrier is to be given a dedicated terminal at its hub.
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