Why is oneworld unsuccessful in Belgrade?

 

 

The presence of oneworld in Belgrade is pathetic! Not only is their passenger share below 1% but they are present in the Serbian market simply through Malév’s 5 weekly frequencies from Budapest.

 

 

It is a very well known fact that one of the most lucrative markets from Belgrade is the North American one.

However, in that particular region oneworld’s presence is impressive. This is mostly achieved through American Airlines’ extensive  network in the US, and British Airways’ far-reaching network from London Heathrow.

 

American Airlines has numerous bases around the United States, two of them being very important for the Balkan passengers: New York and Chicago.

Star Alliance has mounted a very aggressive ongoing campaign in order to establish itself as the dominant carrier in the ex-Yugoslav/Balkan market.

In Belgrade alone they hold an impressive 22% of the market. In June Lufthansa recorded an average loadfactor to Belgrade of 89%. The airline operates the route twice daily with their Boeing B737-300.

 

For years now Lufthansa has targeted passengers flying from Belgrade to North America. Its subsidiaries, Swiss and Austrian, both offer convenient connections via their hubs. Swiss even introduced a second daily flight in order to offer faster connections. As a result its passenger numbers between Belgrade and Zurich have doubled.

 

British Airways, as the biggest oneworld member airline in Europe, was at a serious disadvantage due to British visa requirements for Serbian citizens.

This meant that Serbs travelling to North America needed a British transit visa even when connecting through Heathrow.

As British Airways’ O&D market was taken over by Jat Airways (higher frequencies than BA) and Wizz Air (cheap!) they had no option but to direct the aircraft to more profitable routes.

Until the British government decides to remove the visa requirement for Serbian citizens it is doubtful whether British Airways will consider returning to Belgrade.

However, the British government has stated its possible intention to remove the visa restriction in the foreseeable future. This liberalization would likely encourage British Airways’ return to Belgrade, thus posing a serious threat to the current airlines dominating this market.

Not only is a London transit the most direct way for Serbs to travel to the US but it is also the city that serves the greatest variety of US destinations, and with high frequencies.

 

Currently the only oneworld airline from the alliance in Belgrade is Malév which is struggling to survive.

To make things even worse, both Malév and American Airlines have neglected the Serbian market and the New York flight is not coordinated with the arrivals from Belgrade. This is a major mistake as the combination of Malév and American Airlines could have been the cheapest and most convenient of all thanks to the proximity of Belgrade and Budapest.

 

If these two airlines had serious intentions about serving Serbia then they should have known that by poaching some passengers from the competition and developing Budapest as a transit hub for Serbs they could have planned Chicago-Budapest in the future.

Without suitable timings between Belgrade and North American flights out of Budapest, Malév will keep on struggling in Serbia.

Serbs are no strangers to Budapest. During the 1990s when air travel was severely restricted out of Belgrade the vast majority of Serbs used Budapest as their departure point.

To make things even more convenient for them, Lot has announced that they will be discontinuing Belgrade services during the winter.

With Lot gone for the winter season Malév should have jumped in with a revised schedule in order to offer Belgrade-New York at affordable prices and with fast transit times.

One major mistake Malév is currently making is that they are trying to attract passengers to connect through Budapest en route  to other parts of Europe. The problem with this strategy is that the market they are trying to get into is highly competitive and far from profitable.

One of their major threats is from airBaltic which has a massive network within Scandinavia with multiple daily departures and cheap fares: both of which Malév lacks.

To make things even worse  airBaltic’s average load factor for June jumped from just over 50% to 74% year on year.

With these catastrophic results Malév should really reconsider their operations in Belgrade. Will they keep on struggling to attract passengers to connect via Budapest to the rest of Europe or will they change their strategy and coordinate their flights with American Airlines in order to fill their flight to JFK?

 

oneworld’s situation will remain as is and will not improve until Niki joins the alliance.

With Niki in the alliance oneworld passengers will have much greater flexibility when travelling. Currently the airline uses their E-190 aircraft between Vienna and Belgrade. From the winter season the airline will be adding 5 additional frequencies in order to offer better connections at its hub, Vienna.

 

Besides Malév and Niki the only possible airline we might see in Belgrade is British Airways. The rest have too little demand to succeed in Serbia.

 

 

oneworld’s true glory in Serbia cannot be achieved without the return of British Airways!

 

 

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Summer 2011 on Final Approach (Part 3)

 

The third part of the ‘Summer 2011 on Final Approach’ will look at the success of the oneworld airline alliance in Belgrade.

 

 

In December 2009 it seemed as if oneworld’s luck in was about to change. The Hungarian national carrier Malév had announced that they were returning to Belgrade after two decades of absence.

On the 14th of December 2009, Malév’s aircraft (Boeing B737-700) landed in Belgrade for the first time since the discontinuation of the service in 1992.

In order to promote the new route the airline had launched a new campaign where people could purchase tickets for only 1 Euro.By the time the airline launched the flights it had a total of 2.000 bookings for December alone, giving it an outstanding loadfactor of 70%.

With the campaign in place, the winter season of 2009 saw Malév operate a wide range of aircraft between the two cities, ranging from Dash-8 to Boeing B737-800.

True success in Serbia would only be shown during the following summer season, that is after the promotion had passed.

During the summer season in 2009, the airline recorded lower passengers numbers. Still, the route was still considered a success.

True blow to oneworld in Serbia came in late 2010 when British Airways announced its withdrawal from Belgrade. The airline was unable to cope with growing competition from both Wizz Air and Jat. Its presence in Belgrade has been reduced to a simple codeshare with Malév via Budapest.

After the initial success during the previous winter season, Malév started to face its own difficulties. They tried to keep the daily frequency by reducing capacity on the rout by replacing their Dash-8 (72 seats) with E120 Brasilia (30 seats). Eventually the airline was forced to downgrade Belgrade to 6 flights per week.

However, the airline is planning daily frequencies for the upcoming summer season hoping to reverse the current trend.

On the other hand, one can wonder if British Airways will be reintroducing flights to Belgrade this summer. There are numerous obstacles which might reduce the chances of their return. Most importantly Serbian citizens still need a visa to both enter and transit in the UK. Jat Airways and Wizz Air have added additional flights this summer in order to fill the void left by British Airways.

Passengers loyal to the oneworld airline alliance will have to travel on Malév this summer season. It would be surprising that any other member of the oneworld alliance would enter the Serbian market at this point.

However, no matter how unlikely it is that any other member of the alliance would place Belgrade on their route map, only Finnair and Iberia could possibly find interest in the Serbian market.

It’s worth mentioning that in case either airline decides to launch Belgrade, a large sum of money would be needed until the route would start making profit. The fact that Serbian market today is not a large one, or that it is far from a high yielding one might make it less interesting to these two airlines.

To make the return of Iberia even less likely, Spanair had been operating flights from Barcelona for almost a year now. During the last summer season, in addition to Barcelona the airline flew twice per week from Madrid to Belgrade.

This summer the airline is planning on keeping three weekly flights from Barcelona, whereas nothing was mentioned regarding the flights from Madrid.

On the other hand, Finnair would probably record enormous losses in Belgrade. This is mostly due to the large number of airlines flying to the two markets relevant to Finnair, northern Europe and Asia. Northern Europe is very well covered by airBaltic via Riga in addition to Jat Airways, Cimber Sterling, Wizz Air and Norwegian operating flights to numerous cities in that specific region.

On the other hand Asia is very well connected by Aeroflot via Moscow and Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. Aerosvit, a newcomer, is trying to steal some of the Serbia-Asia market and re-route it via Kiev.

My personal opinion is that oneworld’s presence in the Balkans (excluding Istanbul and Athens) is very much dependent on Malév and their vast coverage of the region.

As for Serbia, the only oneworld airline that could return to Belgrade is British Airways from London Heathrow.

 

However for the time being oneworld will continue to route its passengers via Budapest to the world.

 

 

 

 

Summer 2011 on final approach (Part 1)

Serbia’s main hub, Belgrade International Airport, recorded impressive results in 2010.

All previous records have been broken and passenger numbers rose well above 10% on monthly basis.

Links to previously unserved destinations have been established, more particularly to the Baltics, thanks to Latvia’s national carrier airBaltic. After almost a decade and a half direct air links have been established with Spain, linking both Barcelona and Madrid with Belgrade.

Unfortunately some airlines could not cope with growing competition and had to pull the plug on their Belgrade service.

One of the most shocking announcements came when British Airways announced the suspension of their five weekly flights from London Heathrow.

The decision on cancelling this route was catalyzed by Jat Airways’ impressive summer results on the route. Throughout the summer the airline managed to record an impressive average load factor of 87%. Additionally during the 2010 summer season Jat Airways offered greater flexibility to its passengers by providing them with 9 weekly frequencies.

However, the last nail in the coffin was the announcement of the lowcost carrier Wizz Air that it was launching 4 weekly flights from Luton.  Serbia-United Kingdom market was now dominated by Jat and Wizz Air leaving British Airways with only one option- withdrawing from the market. Passengers can still purchase British Airways’ tickets via their oneWorld alliance partner, Malév.

Another airline that had failed in Belgrade was the Greek carrier Aegean. For decades the Greek market was shared by Jat Airways and Olympic (in all of their previous forms). However in late 2009 the Greek government was revising the bi-laterals it had signed with non-EU countries (which states that only one Greek carrier could operate the flights).

At that time the route Athens-Belgrade was operated daily by Olympic Air (in addition to Jat Airways). The airline was aware that the Greek government could award these rights to their competition, however they felt confident enough to announce their second daily flight.

Unfortunately for them, the Greek government handed over the Serbian market to their competition, Aegean Air.

One of the major disadvantages for Aegean was the lack of an adequate aircraft for the route. Both Olympic Air and its predecessor Olympic Airways operated the route using turboprops. Olympic Airways operated a mix of Atr-42’s and -72’s, where as Olympic Air used their Dash-8’s. On the other hand the smallest plane in Aegean’s fleet was the British Aerospace Avro RJ 100 which was not the most fuel-efficient aircraft.

Even though Jat Airways did not seem as serious competition, mostly due to low frequencies (3 times per week) and large capacity aircraft used on the route, it proved otherwise.

The route proved to be less than satisfactory for the Greek airline. In 2010, for the first time since its foundation, Aegean recorded financial losses. Cost cutting measures were introduced which unfortunately included unprofitable routes, Belgrade being one of them.

After several decades of air service between the two countries, for the first time Jat Airways was left as the sole carrier operating between the two countries. Even though their schedule to Athens did not make any sense, the airline managed to add an additional frequency.

Total number of weekly frequencies went down from 17 (14 on Olympic and 3 on Jat) to 10 (7 on Aegean and 3 on Jat) to just 4 (Jat Airways).

The end result of the 2010 summer season was more than satisfying. Over the course of the three summer months the airport recorded growth well over 10%. Total number of carried passengers rose by 13% to 2.698.730.

As the preliminary summer schedules are rolling out we can see that the 2011 summer season is going to be as exciting as the one in 2010, if not more!

Join me the next time when I will look into more details on what we can expect in the coming quarter of the year.