Air Serbia Doubling Airbus A330 Fleet, Expanding Long Haul Flights

Air Serbia Doubling Airbus A330 Fleet, Expanding Long Haul Flights

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It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of Air Serbia. The airline was founded in its current form in 2013, as a joint venture between the government of Serbia (51% stake) and Etihad Airways (49% stake). As Etihad evolved its strategy, it progressively decreased its stake in the Serbian national carrier, and as of 2023, Etihad fully cut ties with Air Serbia.

Serbia’s government has remained invested in the airline, and has continued to grow Air Serbia. The latest part of this plan has just been announced, as the airline intends to double its long haul fleet, as flagged by EX-YU Aviation News.

Air Serbia will operate fleet of four Airbus A330s

In the coming months, Air Serbia is planning on increasing its Airbus A330 fleet from two to four jets, doubling the carrier’s long haul capacity. Both airline executives and government officials have confirmed the plans, and have announced that the airline intends to add these two additional A330s to its fleet by May 2024, in time for the summer 2024 season.

It hasn’t yet been announced where Air Serbia will acquire these jets, but presumably they’ll be used jets acquired from other airlines.

For some context on Air Serbia’s current Airbus A330 fleet:

  • In April 2021, the airline took delivery of an A330-200 with the registration code YU-ARB; this aircraft first started flying in 2008 for Aeroflot
  • In November 2022, the airline took delivery of an A330-200 with the registration code YU-ARC; this aircraft first started flying for South African Airways in 2011

Prior to that, from 2016 until 2021, Air Serbia flew a different Airbus A330-200 with the registration code YU-ARA, which first started flying for Jet Airways in 2007. This aircraft was leased through Etihad, given that at the time, Etihad had a stake in both Air Serbia and Jet Airways.

The reason the airline swapped one aircraft for another was because it could get more favorable lease terms on those planes. You can read my review of Air Serbia’s business class here.

Air Serbia Airbus A330 business class

How Air Serbia will expand long haul flights

It seems that Air Serbia is exclusively focused on the United States and China when it comes to long haul service. Currently the airline flies to:

  • Chicago (ORD) — 2x weekly in winter, 3x weekly in summer
  • New York (JFK) — 3x weekly in winter, 7x weekly in summer
  • Tianjin (TSN) — 2x weekly in winter, not currently scheduled for summer

So, what are Air Serbia’s plans with the additional Airbus A330s? The airline intends to add flights to Guangzhou (CAN) and Shanghai (PVG). While flights aren’t on sale yet, the plan is to offer 2x weekly frequencies in each market.

Air Serbia’s planned Airbus A330 routes

Beyond adding new destinations, Air Serbia hopes to offer more than daily service to New York in summer, and also wants to have enough spare aircraft to be able to perform unscheduled maintenance without the operation totally falling apart.

A few thoughts on how Air Serbia is evolving:

  • It’s nice to see the airline seemingly succeeding on its New York route, to the point that more than daily frequencies are planned in summer; then again, filling planes across the Atlantic in summer is quite easy
  • In the past there had been talk of Air Serbia flying to Toronto, but that appears to no longer be in the cards
  • Since Air Serbia isn’t in the European Union, the airline is uniquely positioned to offer flights to & from Russia, so I’m surprised that’s not being exploited more in terms of the network (since there’s no need to fly from Russia to China via Serbia)
  • Does anyone fully understand Air Serbia’s China service? Is it about cargo, about close business ties, or just about serving actual passenger demand? Because if you have the option to fly basically anywhere in the world, it’s surprising that Tianjin would be your first destination after New York…

I’d be fascinated to know how Air Serbia is truly doing financially. Because the airline is government owned, we don’t have a true sense of the company’s financials. Is Air Serbia actually making money, or is the carrier’s growth more about expanding the economy in Serbia?

Air Serbia wants to expand service to New York

Bottom line

Air Serbia is doubling its long haul fleet, as the airline plans to acquire two additional Airbus A330s before the summer 2024 schedule. The airline currently flies to Chicago, New York, and Tianjin, and wants to add service to Guangzhou and Shanghai, as well as increasing service to New York.

I’m curious to see how this evolves, and where Air Serbia acquires these jets.

What do you make of Air Serbia acquiring two more Airbus A330s?

Conversations (20)
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  1. vlcnc Guest

    Air Serbia is just a client airline for Russia at this stage. I can't posit why they are flying to these Chinese destinations but you bet it will be to facilitate something for Russia. They've ramped up service so fast even in short-haul in Europe (last summer it was 33% increase in destinations excluding seasonal ones) and a lot of those destinations were previously very popular with Russians and it is clear the strategy is...

    Air Serbia is just a client airline for Russia at this stage. I can't posit why they are flying to these Chinese destinations but you bet it will be to facilitate something for Russia. They've ramped up service so fast even in short-haul in Europe (last summer it was 33% increase in destinations excluding seasonal ones) and a lot of those destinations were previously very popular with Russians and it is clear the strategy is about facilitating travel to Russia which has limited service at the moment.

  2. Marko J Guest

    China and Serbia have mutual visa free agreement - both nations can stay up to 30 days without any kind of visas. TSN flights are mainly full of Chinese tourists and business people. Shanghai also makes much sense because of proximity of Hangzhou, which is a hometown for absolute majority of chinese shopkeepers in Serbia

  3. Nick Guest

    Some explanations:

    1) Serbia is one of the few European countries that does not require visas for Chinese nationals which has led to a big increase in Chinese tourists. Hainan Airlines flies between Beijing and Belgrade. Furthermore, Serbia is one of the few European countries whose citizens do not require any visa to visit China. Serbia and China recently signed a free trade agreement which will lead to a lot of cargo demand.
    2)...

    Some explanations:

    1) Serbia is one of the few European countries that does not require visas for Chinese nationals which has led to a big increase in Chinese tourists. Hainan Airlines flies between Beijing and Belgrade. Furthermore, Serbia is one of the few European countries whose citizens do not require any visa to visit China. Serbia and China recently signed a free trade agreement which will lead to a lot of cargo demand.
    2) The Chinese community in Serbia (which is by no means small) hails mostly around the Shanghai area. From the articles I have read, in 2019 Shanghai was the busiest unserved route out of Belgrade with over 280,000 passengers flying indirectly.
    3) In regards to Russia, Serbia is under huge pressure from the EU to introduce sanctions. After the war started, Air Serbia increased frequencies a lot to Russia but was forced to reduce them as the government was pressured by the EU with a lot of threats in restricting Serbia to EU funds, restricting visa free travel for Serbian citizens to the EU etc.
    4) Air Serbia's management said further expansion in North America will happen in 2025 and two routes are currently under consideration - Miami and Toronto.
    5) Belgrade is hosting the specialized EXPO in the summer of 2027. Based on the government's plans, the city will go through a big transformation over the next 3 years (if you just look at the chain hotels opening it is impressive - St Regis opening in the next few months, W hotel planned to open by 2027 etc). Air Serbia has also tied its expansion to the expo and expects to be serving over 100 destinations by then (it is currently at around 80).

    Hope this clears up a few things

  4. Duck Ling Guest

    I am a little confused about their A330 Business Class cabin config.

    I am booked to fly them Belgrade - Chicago early March and the seat map on their website/expertflyer is showing three rows of 2x2x2 seating which seems to differ from the seat plans on Aerolopa/reviews that I have seen.

    Can anyone shed any light?

    TIA

    1. Vlad Guest

      The seating is totally inconsistent. I took 3 long haul flights on AS biz class and the seats/layout were always different!! So it’s a lottery my friend ‍♂️

    2. Jesse Guest

      They use an old Aeroflot a330 and an old South African Airways a330, both of which remain in the configuration of the previous airline, and both of which are different configurations, hence the different seatmaps.

  5. Zee Guest

    The likely reason for them to fly to Tianjin, instead of Beijing, would be that they either couldn't secure a slot at either of Beijing's two airports, or they just couldn't afford a slot in Beijing (which is weird since they fly to JFK, maybe they used all the budgets on that?) so they chose a cheaper option. It actually reminded me of what Ethiopian Airlines has done in the past, and EgyptAir is currently...

    The likely reason for them to fly to Tianjin, instead of Beijing, would be that they either couldn't secure a slot at either of Beijing's two airports, or they just couldn't afford a slot in Beijing (which is weird since they fly to JFK, maybe they used all the budgets on that?) so they chose a cheaper option. It actually reminded me of what Ethiopian Airlines has done in the past, and EgyptAir is currently doing, by flying into HGH when they couldn't get a slot at PVG.

    Tianjin isn't that far from Beijing though. The bus or high-speed rail would take you 1.5-2 hrs to get to Beijing from Tianjin airport, which isn't that bad considering how far the new Beijing Daxing Airport is from the city proper.

    1. Simmonad Guest

      Daxing is just 46km from Tiananmen Square, which is not particularly far and the train reportedly takes just 20 minutes.

  6. Jesse Guest

    Air Serbia isn't a good airline. As I often have a need to travel between Moscow and the US, I tried Air Serbia last summer with a transit through Belgrade. The planes, specifically the a330s, were dirty, outdated and just uncomfortable. The entertainment options were limited, and all 4 of my flights were significantly delayed. Add to that, Nikola Tesla airport just isn't good. It reminds me of Soviet-style airports in smaller cities in Russia....

    Air Serbia isn't a good airline. As I often have a need to travel between Moscow and the US, I tried Air Serbia last summer with a transit through Belgrade. The planes, specifically the a330s, were dirty, outdated and just uncomfortable. The entertainment options were limited, and all 4 of my flights were significantly delayed. Add to that, Nikola Tesla airport just isn't good. It reminds me of Soviet-style airports in smaller cities in Russia. Turkish, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar remain the best options to get between Moscow and the US. Avoid Air Serbia!

    1. Questor Guest

      I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. Gulf Mega carriers owned by Petromonarchies can’t really be compared to a small eastern European airline that has a total of 20 aircraft (most of them narrow body). If your expectations were that those will be similar - your expectations were unrealistic.
      Nikola Tesla airport has been going through a redevelopment over the last couple of years. It has almost doubled in size, and passenger comfort has...

      I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. Gulf Mega carriers owned by Petromonarchies can’t really be compared to a small eastern European airline that has a total of 20 aircraft (most of them narrow body). If your expectations were that those will be similar - your expectations were unrealistic.
      Nikola Tesla airport has been going through a redevelopment over the last couple of years. It has almost doubled in size, and passenger comfort has greatly improved. It will likely never be Hamad airport in Doha, but to be honest it never really aspired to go that route since its capacity after redevelopment will land at 14.000.000 pax per year.

    2. Jesse Guest

      My point still remains: The Turkish and Gulf carriers are the superior option to get between Moscow and the US. Maybe Air Serbia is a small airline, but that still doesn't excuse the poor on-time performance and the dirty and outdated airplanes.

  7. JetBlueFanboy Gold

    “Since Air Serbia isn’t in the European Union”

    Huh? Unless I missed something, I think you meant to say just “Serbia”, not “Air Serbia”.

  8. SlothBoy Guest

    1. Air Serbia’s Tianjin service was launched because they couldn’t get into Beijing at the time. They kept Tianjin because it was profitable, as explained here:
    https://www.exyuaviation.com/2023/12/air-serbia-marks-first-year-of-china.html?m=1
    2. I don’t think Toronto is by any means off the table for them, but moving into China was always the plan.
    3. My guess about the Russia thing is that there just isn’t a whole lot of demand. Everyone with the intent and means...

    1. Air Serbia’s Tianjin service was launched because they couldn’t get into Beijing at the time. They kept Tianjin because it was profitable, as explained here:
    https://www.exyuaviation.com/2023/12/air-serbia-marks-first-year-of-china.html?m=1
    2. I don’t think Toronto is by any means off the table for them, but moving into China was always the plan.
    3. My guess about the Russia thing is that there just isn’t a whole lot of demand. Everyone with the intent and means to leave Russia has surely already left by now, and I don’t think there a lot of people going to Russia given the current political situation.
    4. I think AirSerbia is legitimately profitable. Even if there was some elaborate cover up and they lied about paying back the government loans from over the years, 30+ planes cost a lot of money, and I sincerely doubt Serbia has that kind of money to burn.

  9. roger Guest

    Surprised that Qatar and AirSerbia have not strengthen ties with each other to springboard AirSerbia into ONEWORLD as possibly a ONEWORLD Connect Member. The Alliance could really use an Eastern European partner that covers the Balkan region. AirSerbia could align with AA should it further explore US destinations beyond NYC and Chicago.

  10. Ko Guest

    Flew J on Air Serbia in the fall out of ORD, I have very little expectations when I travel and have been satisfied with pretty much any J product but those seats and limited entertainment options made that flight feel like the longest I've taken, way longer than a flight out to New Zealand, ADD or JNB directly out of the US that I've taken

  11. Rob Guest

    Some of airbus 330’s are listed as not completely flat seats in business on future flights out of ORD

  12. Willem Guest

    If Tianjin started during COVID, it would be because the Chinese government was extremely cautious about Beijing flights by foreign airlines at the time. Why they don’t move it to PEK or the other one now is anyone’s guess, however. Maybe there’s a specific company contract like for Lufthansa’s Shenyang flights?

    1. Milos Guest

      While this perhaps came as a surprise for Air Serbia, their LF for TSN flights hovers around 100%. TSN was planned to be just a temporary solution before Air Serbia is allowed into Beijing or Daxing, however they are not planning giving up on what turned out to be an extremely lucrative route. It'd be interesting to know if these are connecting passengers and where to. But while TSN might seem as an unknown place...

      While this perhaps came as a surprise for Air Serbia, their LF for TSN flights hovers around 100%. TSN was planned to be just a temporary solution before Air Serbia is allowed into Beijing or Daxing, however they are not planning giving up on what turned out to be an extremely lucrative route. It'd be interesting to know if these are connecting passengers and where to. But while TSN might seem as an unknown place to most in the West, Tianjin has a population of almost 14 million, is a major port, and JU is the only European airline serving it.

      Originally, as far as I remember, they ended up in TSN due to COVID restrictions - at the time, the Hainan flight from Beijing to Belgrade was actually flying back to Dalian where pax had to quarantine and then had an empty leg back to PEK.

  13. Tim Guest

    Visited Belgrade in September on Air Serbia. Mix of cargo demand and the fact that Chinese tourists don’t need a visa to visit Serbia so it’s a popular destination for them.

    1. Andrew M Guest

      Adding to this, China and Serbia have had a close relationship for a long time, especially after the 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A lot of Chinese (and Serbians) view the other country favorably. Serbia is China's major European partner for the Belt and Road program.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Ko Guest

Flew J on Air Serbia in the fall out of ORD, I have very little expectations when I travel and have been satisfied with pretty much any J product but those seats and limited entertainment options made that flight feel like the longest I've taken, way longer than a flight out to New Zealand, ADD or JNB directly out of the US that I've taken

1
vlcnc Guest

Air Serbia is just a client airline for Russia at this stage. I can't posit why they are flying to these Chinese destinations but you bet it will be to facilitate something for Russia. They've ramped up service so fast even in short-haul in Europe (last summer it was 33% increase in destinations excluding seasonal ones) and a lot of those destinations were previously very popular with Russians and it is clear the strategy is about facilitating travel to Russia which has limited service at the moment.

0
Marko J Guest

China and Serbia have mutual visa free agreement - both nations can stay up to 30 days without any kind of visas. TSN flights are mainly full of Chinese tourists and business people. Shanghai also makes much sense because of proximity of Hangzhou, which is a hometown for absolute majority of chinese shopkeepers in Serbia

0
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