Air Serbia’s CEO, Jiri Marek, has announced the carrier will add several aircraft into its fleet in the coming weeks, which will stabilise its network, noting that existing cancellations and delays have come as a result of the late arrival of both dry-leased and wet-leased planes, as well as supply chain issues. The airline will take delivery of a wet-leased Embraer E190 jet today, which is expected to remain part of Air Serbia’s fleet for a prolonged period of time. The aircraft in question, registered SX-PTM (pictured), is operated by Greece’s Marathon Airlines and is set to arrive in the Serbian capital this afternoon. It will be deployed on scheduled flights as of tomorrow, with the jet already slated to operate the morning service between Belgrade and Cologne. A further two Embraers will join in the coming weeks.
Mr Marek noted that Air Serbia is currently lacking three aircraft to stabilise its schedule. Commenting on the matter, the CEO told the “Tanjug” newsagency, “One aircraft that was supposed to arrive in May [dry-leased ATR72-600] is still on hold and we are awaiting spare parts, but we expect it to arrive this week, by Thursday or Friday, and we believe it will be in service by July. We also have an airline that has been operating on our behalf since the start of the year, which has turned out to be unreliable, as they caused us some problems and disruptions during Easter, so we decided to change that and not work with them during the summer. Therefore, it was necessary to find another operator. They will provide us with an E190 aircraft, which will be in operation from this Thursday. We will also request a further two aircraft from this operator to make up for the other two planes we are missing”. He added, “When it comes to our own fleet, apart from the ATR arriving this week, we also have an ATR72-600 due to arrive in August”.
The CEO noted that despite some disruptions, the airline carried a record 1.5 million passengers by June 18, a figure it reached on August 5 during the pre-pandemic 2019. “There were several factors [for recent disruptions]. The biggest factor was that for the last one and a half months there have been storms in Belgrade almost every day, which was not the case before. Last year there were six or seven storms throughout the year, but not at the same time. When something like that happens, there is also a ban on refuelling aircraft at the airport”. He added, “We have a delay of a month and a half for the ATR, and we are also waiting for two aircraft that should arrive from another airline, which provides us with both the aircraft and crew. Those three planes were supposed to fly from June 15. Those were the reasons we had to optimise the schedule. But I also think it’s important to mention that even though this seems like big news, we’ve never had a stranded passenger”. In terms of staffing, Mr Marek noted the carrier hired more than 170 new cabin crew members, while 28 pilots have recently completed training.
The head of the flag carrier noted that some developments are outside of company’s control. “Our catering supplier is going through a period of transformation, the airport is being upgraded, some things have been completed, but it is not yet fully finished, and we are already in season. All of that has a lot of influence on us. Another example, one of our planes, which was supposed to undergo regular maintenance last year, which lasts about two weeks, was there for six months, and another for five. Last year, when we were supposed to get three aircraft, the deal fell through because the provider realised it was better to sell them for spare parts and make a bigger profit that way. You can’t predict that”, Mr Marek said.
The CEO explained the airline had to grow and take risks to position itself on the market and become profitable as it is no longer a recipient of state aid. “Last year’s profit was made without a single euro in government aid. When you are in the market, which is on the rise after Covid, you have two choices – either you sit and do not risk any potential problems, but then you will not be profitable, and you will rely on external financing, or you can aim high, start to grow, and fight for your place on the market. For the first time, we are profitable without government assistance, and according to estimates, we will have a higher profit by June than during the whole of last year”, the CEO said. Air Serbia registered a 21-million-euro net profit in 2022.
Photo credit: Alex Filippopoulos