Building Balkan connectivity

Bernie Baldwin

From fleet to routes to environmental initiatives, Bojan Arandelović, head of network planning & scheduling, Air Serbia, discusses them all in this Q&A with CONNECT Unplugged.

On the airline’s website, it highlights that “Air Serbia is developing a modern, economical fleet, currently consisting of two widebody, 12 narrowbody and six turboprop aircraft”. What is the plan for the years ahead though, as the Airbus narrowbodies are the ‘ceo’ generation rather than ‘neo’ and three of the ATRs are not current generation models?

Renewing the fleet is one of Air Serbia’s strategic goals. During 2022 alone we took delivery of four ATR 72-600s, as well as one A330, one A320 with sharklets, and one A319. Earlier this year, Air Serbia took delivery of its fifth ATR 72-600 and wet-leased a sixth unit. Also, this year, we aim to add at least two more ATRs and one A320. During the summer we expect the third A330 to join the fleet.

For a company of our size, a lot has been done in one year regarding fleet renewal, especially of the regional type which is key to our success. We have improved our customer experience and comfort tremendously on regional flights.

Keeping in mind current aircraft availability and the challenging times we went through recently (being a capital-intensiveindustry), our primary short-term aim is consolidation and stabilisation of our operations. That means that we will strive to keep renewing our fleet with younger and more efficient A320ceo aircraft, while preparing the company for the ‘neo’ option as well, as in the long-term it becomes inevitable. As in many other fields, we keep analysing how this aircraft could fit into our network and what benefits and savings it will bring not only to us, but also to the environment we operate in. Over the past few years, we have learned how to be agile and to adapt, therefore we keep the ball rolling believing that everything is possible.

How will your fleet plans for, say, the next five years, affect the routes you will be able to offer? And what role will codeshare agreements play in route development?

Our fleet plans undoubtedly are aligned with our five-year network development strategy. Our commitment is to still be the airline of choice in the Balkan region, with constantly improved connectivity through Belgrade, not only to the US and China but also to the rest of the European continent and the Middle East thanks to our ever-growing network. Between October 2022 and January 2023, we announced more than 20 new routes, and aim to reach 100 destinations before our 100th anniversary in June 2027.

For Air Serbia, not being a member of an alliance, codeshare partnerships are of great importance and contribute significantly to our network development. We keep extending our current partnerships and adding new ones wherever both sides see additional value and commercial viability. Recently, we launched codeshares with Qatar Airways and Air China, while codeshares with Turkish Airlines, ITA Airways, Aegean and others are constantly being expanded as the networks of both sides get bigger.

Which destinations remain high on your target list? Are you looking to fill gaps you have such as that north of Krakow in Poland and onward through the Baltic states and Finland?

In the last few years, especially before the Covid crisis, our network strategy was to strengthen our position in southeast Europe by reinforcing our regional network and growing the European and long-haul one at the same time. With this approach we have built a strong hub-and-spoke network base in Belgrade. Once markets re-opened, our main focus was keeping the strong position on our existing network while adding at the same time popular leisure destinations across Europe.

Looking at our network destination map, you can easily come to a conclusion regarding opportunities in Poland and the Baltic states. Considering market sizes and how small they are, and keeping in mind the current Air Serbia fleet composition, we believe that it’s still not the right moment to start serving those. On the other hand, our network points from these markets are heavily penetrated by the LCCs.

Nevertheless, we see potential, especially as our codeshare partner airBaltic has announced direct flights to Belgrade. We will be happy to jointly explore opportunities on this route and hopefully make it a success for both sides.

Every airline is aiming to be more sustainable in its operations. What are your key projects in this area and what have the results been so far?

Air Serbia has been regularly measuring, recording, and reporting its CO2 footprint to relevant international regulatory bodies such as the European Union and ICAO’s CORSIA for years. Through regular monitoring of environmental trends in aviation, we try to keep up with the world. Awareness and understanding of new initiatives and programmes gives us a chance to introduce them ourselves.

In the last five years, our company has improved its fuel optimisation programme, invested in software that tracks consumption, and provides meaningful statistics in areas where consumption can be safely reduced. Thanks to these measures, we saved more than a thousand tons of fuel in 2021 alone. To be more precise, more than three thousand tons of CO2 were not unnecessarily released into the atmosphere.


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