Air Serbia: No appetite to join alliance

Air Serbia has reiterated it has no plans to join one of the major global alliances in the near future despite expanding cooperation with leading carriers from each of the three. The airline’s CEO, Jiri Marek, noted that the Serbian carrier’s network expansion is being aided by its cooperation with “feeding partners” such as Air France, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines. “So we have Air France on one side, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways … we will be growing those partnerships further”, Mr Marek said. He added, “We don’t have any appetite in the near future to enter an alliance. I have personal experience with all three of them and we are leveraging at the moment being able to offer good access to the wider Balkan region”.

Out of the three global alliances, Air Serbia has the most partnerships in place with SkyTeam members, codesharing on 47 routes. Its largest partners in the alliance are ITA Airways and Air Europa, codesharing on nineteen routes operated by each of the two carriers. The Serbian airline expanded its Oneworld partnerships this year after striking a deal with Qatar Airways in January. It currently codeshares on seventeen of its Qatari counterparts’ routes. Within Star Alliance, Air Serbia has the widest codeshare agreement in place with Turkish Airlines, with its designator code and flight numbers appearing on twenty of Turkish’s routes (including two AnadoluJet operated routes).

Mr Marek has previously said he does not see Air Serbia as part of an airline alliance for the time being because it of the disadvantages it brings to a small carrier. “As a small airline, you contribute more to an alliance than you receive in return and your options are limited. At the moment, we can work with whoever we want, wherever we see benefits. We believe that our hub in Belgrade and our regional network is a great advantage to offer to codeshare partners. I firmly believe that in the medium-term we can be profitable independent of any alliance. For long-term sustainability, however, there could be certain advantages in working more closely with one of the larger groups as you can deal better with the volatility of the markets. But that’s not something we’re considering right now”.
Air Serbia was previously part of an informal Etihad Partners alliance, which has unravelled over the past few years as most of its members, which were partially owned by Etihad Airways, have gone bankrupt. The Serbian carrier remains Etihad’s only equity partner with the Emirati airline holding a 16% stake in its counterpart, although cooperation between the two is almost non-existent. “[Etihad] are minority shareholders. It’s not strategically driven, as it was previously. We don’t have any strong business relations anymore, even a codeshare. We are a member of the frequent flyer program but we are looking at options to create something on our own”, Mr Marek said.

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