Air Serbia will fly to Washington tomorrow, 8th of April, for a two-way rescue operation of Serbian citizens stuck in the United States, and for US citizens stuck in Serbia. A total of 700 Serbian citizens are awaiting the arrival of the Air Serbia’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft to transport them to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport. This is the last repatriation flight to the country.
The rescue operation
The US Embassy in Serbia first advertised this Air Serbia rescue flight to Washington in an alert on Twitter four days ago. The alert indicated that no further repatriation activity between the two countries will take place. Given that Serbia has shut all its airports “indefinitely”, this is a fairly serious warning.
Air Serbia’s Airbus A330-200 will depart Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport at 07:00 tomorrow morning, 8th of April, heading for Washington Dulles International Airport. It will return back to Serbia the same day.
The Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has personally approved this flight, N1 reports, as a two-way repatriation effort between Washington and Belgrade. Air Serbia already operated one rescue flight between Belgrade and Los Angeles last week, but that one was chartered by the US State Department and for the benefit of American citizens in Serbia only. The Washington charter is a two-way rescue flight.
Interestingly, 700 Serbian citizens registered their desire to depart Washington, which is significantly over the capacity of Air Serbia’s A330-200. It remains unclear how the overflow will be transported.
⚠️URGENT: U.S. citizens and LPRs who want to return to🇺🇸please register https://t.co/bnCaabOmkF for a direct ✈️ to @Dulles_Airport departing on April 8 at 7 a.m. from @AeroNikolaTesla. @SerbianGov enabled this flight to be FREE of charge. https://t.co/GU2RBHEvxB #AmericansHome pic.twitter.com/SXQMlXMHZi
— Američka ambasada (@USEmbassySerbia) April 4, 2020
Air Serbia is making the rescue flight completely free of charge, bucking the trend of some other European flag carriers. In contrast to Air Serbia, neighboring flag carrier Croatia Airlines was charging for its rescue flights from Sweden, Italy, Spain and Portugal. North Macedonia also charged the Macedonians it rescued with Wizz Air charters from Germany, Croatia and Malta.
Jet fuel for the flight is free
Interestingly, Air Serbia is making both of the components of this rescue flight free: the US citizens leaving Serbia for Washington, and the Serbian citizens departing Washington for Belgrade.
The fuel for the flight will be free for Air Serbia, because its fuel supplier at Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport is donating fuel for all of the airline’s rescue flights. This includes the long-haul passenger operations to Washington and Los Angeles, and the numerous cargo rotations to China that Air Serbia is conducting with this Airbus A330-200 for medical supplies.
The fuel supplier is the Petroleum Industry of Serbia (Naftna Industrija Srbije). More than half of it is owned by Gazprom Neft, the Russian oil producer.
Will passengers actually make it?
Because Serbia has imposed a very strict daily curfew, getting on this flight will not be easy for outbound passengers.
Every day, as part of the measures to tackle the current health crisis, citizens must not be outside their houses before 05:00 in the morning. Therefore, anyone wishing to make it for Air Serbia’s flight to Washington will have an extremely limited amount of time to get to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport.
The aircraft will depart Belgrade at 07:00, so the US Embassy has advised anyone intending to board to get to the vicinity of the airport today, so that they may leave their house at 05:00 tomorrow and arrive for boarding in time.