Air Serbia will introduce services between Belgrade and New York this morning, 24 years after its predecessor, JAT Yugoslav Airlines, suspended the route. Using the same flight numbers (JU 500/501), the carrier will maintain the flights five times per week with its newly leased 254-seat Airbus A330-200 aircraft, named after Nikola Tesla. Departure is scheduled at 07.30 CEST.
The airline’s management has described the occasion as the start of “the next phase” in the company’s development. The CEO of the Etihad Aviation Group, James Hogan, notes, “Air Serbia is about to take a huge step forward on its journey to become the leading airline in the region. With an A330 in its fleet and a strong network, the airline has laid the foundations for the success of its New York service”. The maiden service to the largest city in the United States will be piloted by the airline’s Chief Operations Officer, Davor Mišeljić, while some of the passengers on board the sold out flight include Air Serbia’s CEO, Dane Kondić, as well as Mr Hogan, the Ambassador of the United States to Serbia, Kyle Scott, the Serbian Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Zorana Mihajlović, and the Mayor of Belgrade, who is also the Charimain of Air Serbia, Siniša Mali.
Mr Kondić says the airline is extremely satisfied with sales on the route so far. He notes that some 60% of bookings have come from the United States, and a further 35% from Serbia. The carrier will now work on building its brand awareness in the States and developing Belgrade as a stopover point. According to Mr Kondić, the airline has seen “good traction” in business class sales and the region has responded favourably towards the new service. In addition, some of Air Serbia’s newly launched flights, in particularly Kiev, have aided the New York route when it comes to sales. The carrier’s Chairman, Siniša Mali, notes, “This new air link will supercharge relations between Serbia and the United States, and as such, it is fitting that our A330 has been named after Nikola Tesla, the man who was responsible for so much progress in the 20th century. We are turning a new page in the history of this country. We are the only country of eleven in the region with a national carrier offering flights to the United States”.
As an airline executive, what an exciting day. When you consider the vision of the Prime Minister in approaching the government of Abu Dhabi to re-establish Yugoslav Airlines back in 2013 and to see where the business is today, it’s quite a journey. In aviation terms, this has been one of the fastest turnarounds of any airline. From an aviation perspective, the vision to replace this airline has been extraordinary. JAT is no more. The days of JAT are gone. This is about the era of Air Serbia. Air Serbia is the leading airline in the Balkans and, quite frankly, will be the leading boutique airline in Europe.
Today, being able to create Air Serbia operating to New York is all about Air Serbia being part of a family. If Air Serbia was not part of the Etihad equity family we couldn’t be launching flights today. No airline this size in their own right could have launched one flight per week. But being part of a family of airlines, we sourced the aircraft from Jet Airways, the MRO is managed in conjunction with Etihad Engineering and Air Berlin Engineering and the training of the pilots was undertaken by Alitalia. In fact, Alitalia pilots are supporting the A330 transition. So we have all come together to launch this five days per week flight. Today is the start of the next phase. What we have seen over the past three years is a repositioning and moving Air Serbia to a mature brand. I think New York today marks the next phase of the development of this airline. Just think, after 24 years, today you are launching and creating the gateway to the Balkans and to the Americas, connecting to the other states of the region, to Athens and the greater Mediterranean area. As importantly, it’s not just about ethnic traffic and transfer traffic, it is about the destination. In my opinion, the next phase is about selling this wonderful country and this great city. I’m excited about being on the first flight. It’s good to be in Belgrade.