The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, announced that his country’s flag carrier, Air Serbia, will significantly reduce the frequency at which it operates flights to Moscow. The airline will revert to daily flights, down from the current 15 weekly rotations, after it was accused of profiting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Air Serbia had two false bomb threats on Moscow-bound flights in the last three days.
Air Serbia to decrease frequencies to Moscow
Serbia’s President indicated in a press conference last weekend that Air Serbia would soon stop operating the extra frequencies to Moscow that it had added last week. However, it is not clear when this change would kick in.
The airline had almost tripled seat capacity on flights between Serbia and Russia after airlines from across mainland Europe suspended flights to Russia as part of a sanctions package following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Air Serbia positioned itself as a key transfer airline for any passenger wishing to travel from anywhere in Russia to anywhere in Europe. Aside from Turkish Airlines, no other European airline that can link passengers to Western European cities on a single ticket is flying to Russia. Serbia and Turkey have both refused to introduce aviation sanctions on Russia and their two national airlines, Turkish Airlines and Air Serbia, are profiting from this.
Air Serbia had almost tripled seat capacity to Moscow this month. Photo: Getty Images
A major increase in frequencies
Serbia has been deploying its largest aircraft, the Airbus A330-200, on flights to Moscow whenever possible. The aircraft is only being used on flights to New York JFK twice a week at the moment, giving Air Serbia the scope to send it to Moscow on multiple occasions weekly.
The A330 has operated as follows this month:
- 1 March to Moscow
- 2 March to Moscow
- March 3 to New York
- 4 Mach to Belgrade and back overnight
- March 5 to New York
- March 6 to Moscow
- 7 March to Moscow
- March 8 to Moscow
- 9 March to Moscow on two occasions
- March 10 to New York
- March 11 to Moscow
- March 12 to New York
- 13 March to Istanbul and then Moscow
This is an unprecedented increase in seat capacity for Air Serbia’s flights to Moscow. Along with the A330, Air Serbia is also sending its A320 family aircraft to Moscow more frequently than it had been doing prior to Russia’s invasion. One flight number, JU657, has seen as many flights in March this year as it had seen in all of 2021.
Air Serbia is now making full use of its A330. Photo: Getty Images
Responding to strong criticism
Serbia’s President, who is up for re-election the week after next, has claimed that there is an ongoing “witch hunt” against his country.
He also expressed his dismay at Western countries for not pressuring Turkey the way that Serbia is being pressured, saying that airlines in Turkey operate “30 times more flights to Moscow” than Air Serbia does. However, he did not discuss the fact that Air Serbia’s increase in seat capacity to Moscow is several times greater than the boost in seat capacity offered by Turkish Airlines.
Air Serbia itself has faced strong pressure too: the airline was twice the victim of a false bomb threat on its flights to Moscow this week. Three days ago, flight JU652 had to turn back to Belgrade en route to Moscow after a bomb threat sent by email. Today, the same flight turned back to Belgrade and route to Moscow once again.
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