Air Serbia posts record profit, CEO outlines future plans

Anna Zvereva / Wikipedia

Air Serbia posted a profit of €40.5 million for the year 2023, on a revenue of €627 million. This figure represents an almost doubling of profits compared to the previous year. 

“We are achieving record profitability again without any government subsidies” highlighted, proudly, Air Serbia’s CEO, Jiří Marek, talking to AeroTime on the sidelines of the European Regional Airlines (ERA) conference, which took place in Berlin, March 13-14, 2024. 

Marek expressed his satisfaction, as well, about the passenger numbers. With nearly 4.2 million passengers carried in 2023, Air Serbia is on track to surpass, either in 2024 or 2025, its historical record, even if taking into account the long pre-relaunch period in which it operated as JAT, the flag carrier of the former Yugoslavia. 

Network expansion, with 23 new destinations added in 2023, has been a major driver of this increased activity. Likewise, Air Serbia is turning Belgrade into a major regional hub airport, with 40% of its passengers now connecting onto other flights (up from 35% the previous year). 

“We are very positive towards future” Marek told AeroTime, “we have reached the critical mass that allows us to think about further growth”. 

The airline executive, however, stated that in 2024, the priority will be consolidation and making sure all elements, including the supply chain, are ready for a renewed push for growth.  

For example, Marek confirmed that there won’t be many changes in the route network this year, as the airline focuses on developing and improving its product and the passenger experience it offers. 

Air Serbia expects to receive five new aircraft before the end of 2024, three ATRs in dry lease as well as two Airbus A330s. The latter had, until recently, been previously operating for Air Belgium and, before that, for Etihad.  

Marek explained that one of the A330s was expected in May 2024, but this has now been pushed to July, while the other will be delivered in September or October. Air Serbia plans to add another long-haul destination in China after the arrival of the additional A330s. Marek said it would be either Shanghai (PVG) or Guangzhou (CAN), depending on the permits the airline can get. 

Air Serbia also plans also to rationalize and standardize its long-haul fleet cabin interiors.  

The two supplementary A330s will keep their former Etihad cabin fittings and there are plans afoot to refit the two other aircraft of this type currently in the fleet in order to provide a homogenous passenger experience. 

Other project Air Serbia is working on include new catering options and a pilot test of the IFE-streaming BlueBox platform, with a view to rolling out across the fleet if its evaluation is successful.  

Marek explained that Air Serbia is also planning to keep investing in its loyalty program and, further into the future, will be considering a new generation of lighter seats to roll out across its fleet. 

Other projects are taking place on the ground. Air Serbia is planning to move its Belgrade business class lounge to a new 660 sq. m. location, which, in addition to more space, will also have views of the apron (the current lounge is windowless). Work is also underway to upgrade the check-in area at the airport and to open a new dedicated premium check-in space. 

In this regard, Marek expressed his satisfaction with improved on-time performance in the last few months. Air Serbia transferred ground handling contract to Menzies, which took over this service from Vinci following several episodes of ground handling disruptions at Belgrade airport in 2023. 

Marek also spoke about the recent incident at Belgrade airport, when an Embraer E195 operated on behalf of Air Serbia by ACMI provider Marathon Airlines hit several elements of ground infrastructure during take-off, but managed to return safely to the airport. 

Air Serbia cancelled its contract with Marathon Airlines following this incident. 

In this regard, Marek expressed his confidence that the impact of this cancellation will be rather limited, in part due to the fact that it has happened well ahead of the peak season, allowing the airline to look for alternatives and perform some schedule adjustments to account for the lost capacity. 

Marek also confirmed that Air Serbia is looking to induct a new aircraft type into its fleet, with a public statement expected soon on this matter. 

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