Air Serbia has requested an additional slot pair at London Heathrow Airport for the 2020 summer season but has been turned down by Airport Coordination Limited, which allocates slots at one of the world’s most congested airports. Air Serbia owns nine weekly slot pairs at Heathrow Airport and last summer operated an additional seven weekly flights, for a total of sixteen per week, as a result of the slots it leased from its part-owner Etihad Airways. Air Serbia operated the so-called “ghost flights” daily from Belgrade to London with Etihad Airways equipment in order for the Emirati carrier to retain ownership of the slots which it inherited from its former equity partner Jet Airways, which went into liquidation. Had Etihad kept the slots unused, it would have lost ownership over them.
Air Serbia will not be leasing the additional seven slot pairs from Etihad Airways during the 2020 summer season. On November 20, Air Serbia finalised a slot-swap agreement with Etihad for next summer, with the UAE national carrier to use the departure and arrival times in 2020 or lease them to another carrier. However, Air Serbia’s attempt to secure a tenth weekly flight to London Heathrow Airport has so far been unsuccessful, with Airport Coordination Limited refusing to grant the airline its request. Heathrow Airport operates at maximum capacity for most of the day. Oman Air broke the record for buying the most expensive slot in Heathrow’s history at 75 million US dollars from Air France - KLM in 2016. It surpassed the previous record holder American Airlines which bought a slot off SAS Scandinavian Airlines for sixty million US dollars. Croatia Airlines sold five of its morning slots, which are the most sought after, for 19.5 million US dollars in 2017 to Delta Air Lines.
Despite the slot setback, Air Serbia’s CEO, Duncan Naysmith, said last week that the airline’s results are exceeding all expectations and that more growth is expected in the coming period. “Even though we are satisfied, we will continue to improve our offer, because that is the only way we can respond to increased demand, which has in Q4 been exceeding all records since we started operations. I am convinced that everything we are preparing for the coming period will result in even better ratings from experts, but also greater satisfaction from our passengers”, Mr Naysmith said. The Serbian carrier will resume operations between Belgrade and Istanbul on Wednesday after two-and-a-half years, while on Tuesday next week it will launch operations from Kraljevo to Vienna.