An Air Serbia A330-200 is presently in the air and en-route to Los Angeles, operating a rescue flight chartered by the US State Department and the US Embassy in Serbia. It is one of many rescue flights Air Serbia is operating these days, while Serbian airports remain closed.
The rescue flight
News of this rescue flight broke in Serbia last night. In a Tweet publicizing the alert, the US Embassy in Belgrade asked all of its country’s citizens and permanent residents to register for seats “ASAP”.
#COVID19Serbia ALERT: We have arranged a special @StateDept chartered flight for U.S. citizens and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents, departing #Belgrade to #LosAngeles TOMORROW, March 26 at noon. Please email BelgradeACS@state.gov ASAP to register for seats https://t.co/oVPGJYRzZQ
— Američka ambasada (@USEmbassySerbia) March 25, 2020
The US Embassy to Serbia then clarified how the seats on this flight would be prioritized, noting:
Flight seats will be prioritized for U.S. citizens and their eligible family members (including those with identified health concerns), Legal Permanent Residents of the United States, and then others, as seats may become available.
Then, this morning, the US Ambassador to Serbia posted a Tweet with a video outlining what it was like this morning at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, as the charter flight departed.
I was at @AeroNikolaTesla today making sure our U.S. citizens in #Serbia are OK and helping them get home safely. Хвала @SerbianGov and @AirSerbia for this heroic achievement! On behalf of my team here, I want to wish my fellow citizens a safe and speedy journey. #COVID19Serbia pic.twitter.com/JRSdybtEZ6
— Ambassador Anthony Godfrey (@usambserbia) March 26, 2020
The rescue flight became necessary this week as Serbia has closed its borders in an effort to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Two weeks ago Serbia closed Morava Airport in Kraljevo, after which it also closed its second-biggest airport, Niš. The only remaining airport in the country, Belgrade Nikola Tesla, was closed last week.
One of many rescue flights
Air Serbia has a single Airbus A330-200 in its fleet, which operates the carrier’s only long-haul route, from Belgrade to New York JFK. The A330-200 aircraft is highly utilized in the peak summer months, operating as many as six weekly rotations between Serbia and the United States in June, July and August.
However, during the slow winter period, it is used much less often. In February the frequency on this route is ordinarily two-weekly.
At the moment, this Air Serbia A330 is being utilized more than it otherwise would be if it only operated those scheduled flights between New York and Belgrade, and back.
According to FlightRadar24, in the last six days, this widebody aircraft operated seven flights, of which six were longer than 10 hours. That means it has essentially been in continuous deployment.
The flights it operated thus far are all to Shanghai, including one triangle charter flight that followed the route Belgrade-Shanghai-Guangzhou-Belgrade.
Thus, the flight being operated right now from Belgrade to Los Angeles is only one of many Air Serbia long-haul rescue and medical charter flights.
Air Serbia is hit hard by COVID-19
As Simple Flying reported in December, Air Serbia had big expansion plans for the year 2020. These might now not actually take place.
The airline is expected to receive a financial injection from its owner, the Serbian government, to cover its operational losses while its fleet remains grounded. It will be interesting to see how many of its existing and planned routes are resumed this summer, and when.