x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Etihad to run daily flights to Serbia

Etihad strikes another code-share deal in Europe, this time with Serbia's Jat airline, as the Abu Dhabi carrier extends its global reach.

Etihad Airways and Jat Airways have entered into a code-share deal. AFP
Etihad Airways and Jat Airways have entered into a code-share deal. AFP

Etihad Airways is to begin daily non-stop flights between Abu Dhabi and Belgrade, but the airline has declined to comment on speculation it intends to buy a stake in the Serbian national carrier Jat Airways.

However, both airlines yesterday confirmed they would begin a code-share agreement when the service launches on June 15, with Jat Airways, placing its JU code on the new route, and to 21 destinations on the Etihad network.

In return Etihad will place its EY code on 23 of Jat's European routes, subject to government and regulatory approval. "Etihad Airways' strategy of working closely with a local partner in new markets has brought impressive results," said James Hogan, the Abu Dhabi carrier's president and chief executive.

"We are confident that the cooperation with Jat Airways will benefit both airlines and will cater for the significant and growing demand for air travel between the UAE and Serbia, as well as cities with large Serbian populations around the world, particularly in Australia and the US."

However, Etihad declined to comment on speculation that a stake deal is imminent. Last month the Serbian finance minister Mladjan Dinkic hinted that Etihad could become a strategic partner of the loss-making Jat during a visit to Abu Dhabi. His comments came as it was announced that the UAE had approved a US$400 million (Dh1.46 billion) loan to Serbia to help to pull it out of recession.

The Serbian finance ministry had suggested Etihad could take a 49 per cent stake in Jat, Reuters reported.

"I believe we will have good news by mid-April … we could complete talks about a strategic partnership between Jat Airways and Etihad within the next two months," the news agency quoted Mr Dinkic as saying.

The Serbian government has said it is ready to take on €170m (Dh816.4m) of debt from the airline, pay leases for six new aircraft from Airbus and secure severance payments for redundant workers, to make Jat more attractive to investors. Previous attempts to sell Jat have failed because potential buyers have been put off by its losses. It currently operates 10 ageing Boeing 737-300 jets and four ATR 72-200 turboprop aircraft on 30 routes within Europe and to the Middle East.