Air Serbia plans to operate flights to as many as 30 new destinations during the summer 2023 season, including adding routes to Krakow, Ohrid and Varna.
Speaking to Routes at the company’s head office in Belgrade, Air Serbia CEO Jiri Marek said that the airline needs an additional five aircraft next year and it is seeking to take a third Airbus A330 so it can expand its long-haul operations.
“At the moment we are looking for a third A330 aircraft, just to be ready,” he said. “In the event restrictions to China are lifted, we would definitely want to be ready to grasp the opportunity.”
Air Serbia launched a new route from Belgrade (BEG) to Tianjin (TSN) on Dec. 9, marking the flag-carrier’s return to China after a 22-year absence when predecessor JAT last served Beijing. Flights are currently once a week and Marek said they have already sold out until mid-January.
Once China further relaxes its COVID-19 travel restrictions, Shanghai Pudong (PVG) could be the next Chinese destination for Air Serbia, in addition to increasing frequencies to Tianjin.
“Tianjin is one of the biggest cargo hubs in China and also contributes to positive trends of passenger bookings,” Marek said.
Elsewhere, Air Serbia plans to increase frequencies to New York John F Kennedy (JFK) in summer 2023, as well as adding more capacity to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). The latter is a region with a large Serbian diaspora and important in terms of cargo.
Marek explained that a third A330 could also allow the airline to launch a new route to North America. “Some of the logical choices would be Miami or Toronto,” he said. “We are currently working on the shortlist of the third A330 aircraft with the same engine type as on our current A330 fleet and getting ready for market opening... Sourcing a long-haul aircraft could take up to nine months or more. Having said that, we were able to introduce our last addition to the fleet in less than four months.”
He added that the airline plans to capitalize on market opportunities and will take additional aircraft if the terms are favorable. “We would like to have a constantly available shortlist of aircraft with pre-negotiated commercial terms and technical reviews to be able to act promptly,” Marek said.
Earlier this year, Air Serbia welcomed an A320 that will also serve for transition and replacement of its current fleet of 10 A319s. Marek said the airline hopes to take as many as five additional aircraft in 2023.
“Depending on market availability, we might look into a mix of dry lease and wet lease,” he added. “Between the COVID pandemic and now, a quick reaction to market opportunities has become essential. Air Serbia is very agile as we want to be the regional leader in the wider Balkan region.”
Air Serbia has already announced 22 new routes for summer 2023 that were not available during summer 2022. The latest additions include Krakow (KRK) in Poland starting on June 4, followed by Ohrid (OHD) in North Macedonia and Varna (VAR) in Bulgaria the next day.
“We are continuously capitalizing on the growing market in which we operate and are adding new destinations throughout the year,” Marek said. “Hand in hand with long-haul development, Air Serbia continues expand our feeder network and, depending on market dynamics, we aim to introduce between 20 and 30 destinations in 2023.”
This growth is opening up additional employment opportunities. The carrier is currently in the middle of labour union negotiations, with a view to achieving a multi-year agreement. “In Serbia we are not witnessing staff shortages reported across Europe,” Marek added.