Serbia to formally launch new national carrier, Air Serbia, partly owned by Etihad Airways

Air Serbia, the Balkan country’s new national carrier partly owned by Etihad Airways, formally starts flying this weekend, spelling the end for the old loss-making JAT Airways.

Air Serbia’s chief manager, Dane Kondic, said Friday that the company’s inaugural flight will take place Saturday to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

“Welcome to a new dawn,” said Kondic, an Austrialian of Serbian origin. “Tomorrow, the first Air Serbia plane will take off.”

In a ceremony at Belgrade’s airport, Kondic and deputy prime minister Aleksandar Vucic unveiled an Airbus A319 plane bearing a double-headed eagle logo in Serbia’s national, red, white and blue colours — the first of the company’s future fleet.

They said five more planes will be introduced this year and an additional four in 2014. Air Serbia will double the flight network in six months and introduce new destinations, Kondic said.

Etihad Airways acquired 49 per cent in JAT Airways in August and will manage the company over the next five years. The pact is the latest partnership for fast-growing Etihad, which is locked in competition with other Gulf carriers, the Dubai-based Emirates and Qatar Airways. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad already has investments in European carriers Air Berlin and Ireland’s Aer Lingus.

JAT Airways, once a major European airline, will cease to exist after 66 years in service. JAT was crippled by international sanctions imposed on Serbia during the wars of the 1990s when most of its fleet was grounded and is survived only tanks to government subsidies.

Serbia’s deputy PM Vucic said his government expects Air Serbia to become the leading airline in the region and a profitable company within a year.