Network Expansion Delays 1/3 Of Air Serbia Flights Over 6 Months

Air Serbia is a rapidly growing European airline, but its expansion has come with increased unreliability. An investigation by BIRN found that almost a third of its flights were delayed between June and November 2019. Let’s have a look at why.

Air Serbia Airbus A330 New York JFK
Air Serbia had many delayed flights last year. Photo: Getty Images

Air Serbia is rapidly expanding

In 2019 Air Serbia launched 21 new routes. In 2020, it plans to expand its network with a further 10, including from Kraljevo.

This is impressive, but the 2019 network expansion did not come without a cost. It has now emerged that only 45% of Air Serbia’s flights between 1 June and 31 November 2019 arrived on time or early.

This is a direct consequence of the airline stretching its fleet to the maximum.

The delays

The total number of Air Serbia flights in this time period between June and November was 19 645, of which almost 1500 arrived with a delay of more than 45 minutes. This represents almost 10%.

Meanwhile, 23% of these 19 645 flights arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time. 20% were between 15 and 45 minutes late and 2% were diverted.

Compared to the previous year, the number of severely delayed flights has almost doubled. Only 697 flights arrived more than 45 minutes late in 2018, compared to 1466 in 2019.

Air Serbia jet at airport gate
Air Serbia saw only 41% of its flights arrive on time between June and November 2019. Photo: John Taggart via Flickr

Where was Air Serbia delayed?

The Air Serbia services most often delayed include flights from Belgrade to Tivat and Podgorica in neighboring country Montenegro. This is unsurprising considering that Air Serbia flies there up to four times daily in the summer.

Other destinations that recorded many delayed Air Serbia flights include other high-frequency destinations like Paris (two daily), Athens (two daily) and Vienna (2 daily).

In Zurich, where Air Serbia flies up to three daily flights in the summer, 39% of all flights arrived more than 15 minutes late.

Reasons for delays

Just like TAROM, Air Serbia faces high operational costs because it does not operate a unified fleet. Furthermore, it operates a fleet of some very old aircraft.

It has four Boeing 737s that are 34 years old and six ATR 72 aircraft that are over 24 years old. Even its Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft are on average 18 years old.

The age of its fleet is one of the reasons why Air Serbia is contemplating Sukhoi as an option for fleet replacement. Air Serbia’s fleet age is not a safety concern, but it requires more maintenance which at times makes aircraft unavailable and is then translated into delays.

Air Serbia
This news might hurt Air Serbia’s finances and reputation. Photo: Getty Images

Impact on Air Serbia’s finances

Air Serbia noted in its financial report for 2018 that “traffic irregularities” cost it over €1.2m ($1.3m). Given that delays have more than doubled in 2019, the cost associated with delays has probably grown quite significantly.

Air Serbia operates an extensive destinations network, but its offering of transfer services is limited by their low frequency.

For example, if a passenger traveling from Krasnodar to London Heathrow with Air Serbia via Belgrade misses this connection on a workday, they need to wait until the following day for the next Air Serbia flight to London Heathrow. This means Air Serbia has to pay not only the delay compensation and food costs, but also overnight accommodation.

Furthermore, BIRN notes that Air Serbia has not always been paying out compensation that it is legally obliged to issue to passengers who experienced delays. This could cause serious harm to the airline’s reputation, which would negatively impact its demand among transfer passengers.

Do you think Air Serbia will be able to avoid extensive delays next summer? Let us know in the comments below.