Air Serbia is set for a major capacity expansion to Turkey, thanks to an ever-growing partnership it has with Turkish Airlines and strengthening political Serbia and Turkey. The latest development as part of this partnership was announced yesterday. It follows a Memorandum of Understanding that the two airlines signed in June this year, in which they opened the possibility of launching a joint venture in the near future.

From 0 to 21 in three and a half years

Three years ago, Air Serbia did not fly to Istanbul at all, and Turkish Airlines was its competitor. The Serbian national airline discontinued flights to Istanbul in March 2017, citing declining passenger traffic and poor yields on the route.

This all changed in November 2019 when Turkish airline AtlasGlobal suspended all operations, including its four weekly flights between Belgrade and Istanbul. Air Serbia reacted straight away, announcing just one day later the resumption of its own flights on the route. It started gradually, launching three weekly flights from 11th December 2019.

Within months, Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines started cooperating on the route and launched a codeshare partnership in August 2020. Now, less than three years later, the Serbian national airline is flying to Istanbul from Belgrade 10 times weekly.

However, starting 7th November, as announced yesterday, Air Serbia will start upping the frequency on this route to 17 weekly flights. Then, at the start of the IATA summer 2023 season, the frequency will rise to triple daily: 21 flights per week starting 26th March.

Air Serbia’s major frequency boost on this route comes in addition to Turkish Airlines’ own 21 weekly flights between BEG and IST. Because the two airlines have a codeshare partnership, this means that they will offer as many as 42 weekly flights on this route alone. They offer even more flights on other routes between Serbia and Turkey.

GettyImages-876779430 Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 Getty

The 737-800 has seen it all. Photo: Getty Images

55 weekly Serbia-Turkey flights

In addition to Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines’ 42 weekly IST-BEG flights, Pegasus Airlines is also maintaining its own four-weekly service between Belgrade and Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (SAW).

At the same time, Air Serbia will continue to maintain flights to IST from the other two operational airports in its home country: Kraljevo (KVO) and Niš (INI), from which it is paid by the Serbian government to maintain operations.

From INI, Air Serbia will fly to IST twice weekly this winter, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with an Airbus A320 aircraft. From KVO, the frequency is also twice weekly, but flights run on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and with an ATR72 aircraft.

Thus, altogether, Air Serbia will be running 25 weekly flights to Istanbul on its own metal this winter. If the plans materialize, this will position it as the European airline with the most frequencies to IST apart from Turkish Airlines.

Turkish Airlines is also running two weekly flights from Ankara (ESB) to Belgrade (BEG) under its AnadoluJet brand, and one of the two airlines is expected to launch flights between BEG and Izmir (ADB).

Jiri Marek, CEO of Air Serbia, said:

“Following a hiatus of several years, in December 2019, Air Serbia recommenced flights to Istanbul. Within just three years and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to our cooperation with Turkish Airlines, we have grown from zero to a prospective three flights a day. During the winter season, apart from 17 flights a week from Belgrade, Air Serbia will operate two flights a week both from Kraljevo-Morava and Niš to Turkey’s largest city. Focusing beyond Istanbul, we continue to expand our codeshare cooperation with AnadoluJet, the daughter company of Turkish Airlines, with a view to increasing weekly services between Belgrade and the Turkish capital of Ankara. Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines also plan to expand their partnership to include flights between Belgrade and Izmir, to further improve inter-connectivity between the two countries.”

Air Serbia A320

Photo: Getty Images

An ever-growing partnership

As Simple Flying reported at the time, Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines signed their first extensive partnership at the start of August 2020.

The deal saw the two airlines agree to share ticket sales on a total of 15 routes: Air Serbia gained access to the following Turkish Airlines’ domestic services:

  • Ankara
  • Kayseri
  • İzmir
  • Konya
  • Adana
  • Trabzon
  • Antalya
  • Gazipaşa
  • Dalaman
  • Bodrum
  • Gaziantep

Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines got access to Air Serbia’s regional routes:

  • Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Tivat, in Montenegro

At the time, Jiri Marek, who was then the General Manager Commercial and Strategy at Air Serbia, marked the occasion by saying:

“We are glad to have developed our cooperation with Turkish Airlines through this codeshare partnership, which will provide the passengers of both companies more choice and flexibility in organizing their travels. We are sure that this exciting and strategically very important partnership will improve the economic relations of our countries. We are delighted to have the opportunity to host Turkish Airlines passengers on our flights to Belgrade as well as to other Air Serbia’s destinations.”

Air Serbia’s yesterday’s announcement of a significant boost to its Serbia-Turkey schedule comes as a significant further step in this partnership.

Istanbul will now become the best hub through which passengers can connect to and from Serbia, thanks to what is going to be an average of more than five daily flights from the country to the airport that is the home of Turkish Airlines.

Turkish Airlines Aircraft in the snow
Photo: Getty Images

A potential joint venture?

Air Serbia has announced that the partnership will possibly lead to a joint venture in the future, which would be yet another significant upgrade of its relationship with Turkish Airlines.

In June this year, at IATA’s 78th annual General Assembly in Doha, Turkish Airlines and Air Serbia signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the presence of their respective CEOs, Bilal Ekşi and Jiri Marek.

The MoU envisaged the strengthening of existing cooperation in the areas of codeshare partnerships, cargo operations, and even passenger loyalty programs. This means the two airlines could potentially collaborate on a Frequent Flyer Program in the future, in addition to exploring options for cooperation involving VIP lounges in their destination networks.

What do you think of Air Serbia and Turkish Airlines boosting their frequencies on the Belgrade-Istanbul market to six daily? Do you think these two airlines will eventually enter a joint venture agreement? Let us know what you think of this story in the comments below.


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