From Belgrade to the land of fire

The president of the Serbian-Azerbaijani chamber of commerce Mirko Barach announced yesterday in Baku that talk are being held in order to establish direct air links between Baku and Belgrade.

Mr. Barach announced that these flights are very much needed in order to support the growing bilateral relations between the two countries.

In his speech he mentioned that these flights are not going to be profitable, hence why the extension to Zurich should be added. By adding Zurich they expect transit passengers in Baku, Belgrade and Zurich to bring this flight to profitability.

Currently talks are being held between Jat Airways of Serbia and the national carrier of Azerbaijan AZAL.

How successful can these flights be?

The choice of Zurich seems as an odd one. The route is highly competitive seeing three daily flights in wintertime and  up to 25 flights a week during the summer.

Jat Airways operates daily flights, with additional three frequencies to be added in early summer. The flight is mostly directed at the origin and destination market, that is only people travelling between the two countries. Jat’s flight leaves Belgrade at 15:45 which means that the flight has very little connecting opportunities from the region of ex-Yugoslavia. The only market which could be served is Montenegro which sees numerous daily flights from Belgrade.

Extra frequencies which are to be added in summer should leave Belgrade between 08:00 and 09:00 in the morning. These flights should increase the connecting possibilities for passengers arriving on the early morning flights from Skopje, Sarajevo and Podgorica. Unfortunately, Jat could not match the offer via Budapest, Ljubljana or Vienna.

On the other hand, Swiss has been operating double daily flights since the 17th December 2010. Their daily flight leaving Belgrade at 14:40 was complemented with 4 morning departures at 09:40 and 3 evening departures at 19:55.

Being member of Star Alliance and having an intercontinental hub in Zurich, the airline offers connecting opportunities to Europe and the Americas from Belgrade. Not to mention that Swiss provides much greater comfort and better in-flight product than Jat or AZAL.

Depending on the market demand, the airline operates a range of aircraft from Airbus A319 to Airbus A321. One of the main advantages Swiss has, is the option of replacing their Airbuses with Helvetic’s Fokker 100 when the loads are light.

If the deal between Jat and AZAL goes through and the loads do not match the expectations, the airline will have no option but to fly their half empty aircraft. This will lead to increased losses on the route culminating in the suspension of the flights.

If both airlines are so keen on cooperating via Belgrade, then a choice of a different city would be wiser.

In my opinion the best solution would be to drop the idea of Zurich and replace it with either Milan or Brussels.

Milan:

Currently Jat operates 4 flights per week, with departures in mid-afternoon. With the lack of afternoon flights to the region of ex-Yugoslavia the airline is unable to offer connecting possibilities. Through a partnership with AZAL this can be changed.

Jat would keep its four afternoon flights where as the morning departures would be provided by AZAL.

Below is the possible schedule of these flights:

Baku-Belgrade
06:00 – 07:25

Belgrade-Milano
08:05 – 09:45
Milano-Belgrade
10:40 – 12:20

Belgrade-Baku
13:00-18:25

It is worth mentioning that AZAL currently flies to Milan two times per week. With these additional flights it will be able to provide greater flexibility to its own connecting passengers.

With flights to Milan departing at 08:05 they will be perfectly synchronized with Jat’s morning arrivals from Skopje, Podgorica and Sarajevo. Not to mention that AZAL could provide feed to Jat’s morning departures to other destinations in Europe.
Brussels:
Flights to Brussels are currently operated three times per week with a stop in Amsterdam. This route has become a very important for Jat Airways after KLM started codesharing on its flight. This cooperation was established mostly for the passengers flying between Serbia and North America. It is rather inconvenient for passengers boarding in Amsterdam (usually after a trans-Atlantic flight) to fly to Belgrade with a stop in Brussels.

With the sharp rise in passenger numbers at Belgrade airport, SN Brussels might find interest to launch direct flights from Brussels. This would eventually destroy Jat’s service.

In order to prevent this scenario from taking place, the airline can propose the introduction of Baku-Belgrade-Brussels route.

The flight from Baku to Belgrade would remain the same:

Baku-Belgrade
06:00-07:25

Belgrade-Brussels
08:05-10:10
Brussels-Belgrade
10:50-12:55

Belgrade-Baku
13:35-19:00

With this form of cooperation both Baku and Belgrade would be linked with the capital of the European Union. Jat would be the real winner as not only will it offer direct flights through cooperation with AZAL, but it would finally have a direct flight to Amsterdam.

With the ever growing competition in Belgrade, Jat needs to understand that its future lies in transit passengers from the Balkan region.

In order to develop its Balkan network and transform Belgrade into a true hub, the airline needs to become stronger in the ex-Yugoslav region. Without double daily flights to cities like Skopje and Sarajevo they will never manage to position themselves as a dominant carrier.

Unfortunately Jat’s problems are much greater than its badly organized timetable. Without a visionary management the airline will continue to sink deeper into debt while foreign airlines take over its passengers.

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