Air Serbia is going through operational issues at the moment. These issues have several causes: the end of its summer wet-lease contracts, the delayed delivery of new aircraft, booming demand due to Serbia’s political stance towards Russia, and the unexpected temporary grounding of two A319s. The operational issue has resulted in Air Serbia needing to contract costly short-term leases. Let’s unpack these causes one by one.

Cause 1: Summer leases have ended

Air Serbia has had a very strong summer in 2022, beating its pre-pandemic passenger figures in September and carrying more passengers in the first eight and a half months of 2022 than it did in all of 2021.

The airline embarked on a significant expansion this summer to make use of the lifting of COVID restrictions and to cater to the pent-up outbound leisure demand. To that end, it even sent its Airbus A330 to Barcelona on a regular basis.

It launched as many as seven new routes in a single week at the start of June: Bologna, Bari, Hannover, Lyon, Nuremberg, Salzburg, and Trieste. It also launched domestic flights in January, Valencia in April, and Palma de Mallorca and Sochi in mid-June.

To be able to operate this network, Air Serbia had to wet-lease capacity from three airlines:

  • Romania’s Dan Air, which wet-leased its entire fleet this summer, provided an Airbus A319
  • Greece’s Lumiwings provided a Boeing 737-700 and Boeing 737-300
  • Air Mediterranean provided a Boeing 737-400

These were always intended to be short-term summer leases only, so the contracts have expired, and the capacity has been removed from Air Serbia’s fleet.

The Air Mediterranean 737 operated its last flight for Air Serbia on 10th October, after which it returned to Belgrade. The Lumiwings 737-700 finished flying for Air Serbia on 26th September, and the 737-400 operated the last flight under this contract on 19th September.

Dan Air’s Airbus A319 stopped flying for Air Serbia on 12th October, after which it was returned to Romania, but it has since come back as Air Serbia faces an acute fleet shortage.

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Air Mediterranean Boeing 737 SX

Cause 2: New aircraft are not arriving on time

Air Serbia recently took delivery of an Airbus A320, carrying the registration YU-APO. The aircraft was ferried to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (BEG) on 13th October 2022, where it has been stationed ever since.

The aircraft was delayed on delivery and is delayed on entry to service, so Air Serbia has been forced to wet lease additional capacity to cover for its current fleet shortage until this A320 can finally jump in.

The reason for the delay is not known as Air Serbia has not commented on the issue, but it is believed to have to do with the fact that this A320 was stored for two full years. India’s Vistara operated it from 2014, when it was delivered, to October 2020. Between October 2020 and October 2022, it was stored at various airports, the most recent being Kaunas (KUN) in Lithuania.

At the same time, Air Serbia has still not received the second Airbus A330 aircraft that it needs to have in its fleet to launch new long-haul routes that it has already announced, so it is likely that at least some of the long-haul route launches will be pushed back.

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Lumiwings SX-LWB Boeing 737-36N

Cause 3: Booming demand

While some airlines are struggling to fill seats in the post-summer season, Air Serbia is still seeing excess demand on many of its services due to booming demand. This is partially driven by Russian passengers.

Air links between Russia and almost all of Europe are suspended, but this is not the case for Serbia. The country’s government has refused to impose sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Thus, Air Serbia has found itself in the fortunate position of being one of only two airlines that can link Russian airports with Europe’s mainland destinations. The other is Turkish Airlines which transfers Russian passengers via Istanbul.

In Russia, Air Serbia serves Moscow (SVO), Sochi (AER), Saint Petersburg (LED), and Kazan (KZN). These flights are sold out weeks in advance on the inbound sector, and they offer a substantial feed for Air Serbia’s Western European network.

All of this has contributed to the need for extra capacity even as the summer peak has passed.

Air Serbia A320

Photo: Getty Images

Cause 4: Unexpected losses of existing capacity

Two of Air Serbia’s aircraft are currently out of service. They are both Airbus A319s.

One of them, YU-APB, has not been operational for over a month. Its last flight was the JU375 service from Zurich (ZRH) to Belgrade (BEG) on 14th September. The other one, YU-APL, has not been flying since 29th September.

It is believed that the first of these two aircraft is delayed on an over-running C-check, while the second had an issue on flight JU567 from Moscow (SVO) to Belgrade (BEG), which has grounded it for three weeks.


Photo: Trade Air

Which airlines have jumped in?

To remedy the fleet shortage, Air Serbia has wet-leased extra capacity in the short term from various airlines. This is a costly move, but it is also the only one that allows the airline to maintain its flight schedule and retain passenger confidence while also avoiding compensation payouts, refunds, and expense claims.

Dan Air’s Airbus A319, which flew for Air Serbia this summer, was brought back to Belgrade to operate some flights. The aircraft, registered YR-URS, operated flights for Air Serbia between 4th June and 12th October.

However, it came back to Belgrade in the evening on 16th October and immediately jumped in to cover the JU534/JU535 rotation to Rome Fiumicino (FCO), which ran with a delay of almost three hours. It also operated a rotation to Zurich (ZRH) yesterday, 17th October.

Dan Air has also sent in an Airbus A320, registered YR-DSE, which has been operating flights for Air Serbia since 13th October. Since then, the aircraft has flown to Podgorica (TGD), Larnaca (LCA), Copenhagen (CPH), Nuremberg (NUE), Stockholm (ARN), and Zurich (ZRH) for three rotations in a row.

Croatian ACMI airline Trade Air also jumped in to help out on several occasions. Trade Air has an Airbus A320 stationed in Montenegro’s Podgorica (TGD) and Tivat (TIV) airports for the duration of this summer season, contracted by Air Montenegro to operate its busy peak-season routes that Air Montenegro’s Embraer aircraft do not have enough capacity for.

The A320, registered 9A-BTG, has been jumping in to fly for Air Serbia since 10th October. It operated the rotations from Belgrade to Tivat (TIV) as flights JU4020/JU4021 and JU4022/JU4023, Milan Malpensa (MPX) as JU544/JU545, and Berlin Brandenburg (BER) as JU354/JU355.

What do you think of Air Serbia’s fleet issues? Let us know what you think of this story in the comments below.


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