Serbia Flight Ban Threatens Montenegro Airlines’ Future

The worldwide slump in demand for air travel presents a significant financial challenge for many airlines, but Montenegro Airlines has also been hit hard by a travel ban in its biggest market, Serbia. Last week, the Montenegrin airline announced it might not survive if the travel ban to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport is not lifted.

Montenegro Airlines Fokker 100 Frankfurt Airport
Montenegro Airlines cannot survive if it is not allowed to operate flights to Serbia. Photo: Tom Boon, Simple Flying

Montenegro Airlines voices alarm

Last week, the executive director of Montenegro Airlines, Vlastimir Ristić, revealed that his airline is facing serious financial difficulties. Speaking to the public broadcaster of Montenegro, RTCG, he said that Montenegro Airlines might “not be able to survive” the ban that Serbia imposed on the airline last month.

The executive director said the airline has lost its “best route” as a result of the ban, and that Montenegro Airlines’ survival is unimaginable if it continues to be barred from flying to Serbia.

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Serbia banned Montenegro Airlines last month

As Simple Flying reported in May, Serbia banned Montenegro Airlines from flying to Belgrade Nikola Tesla airport. This followed a diplomatic spat between Serbia and Montenegro about travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19.

The country of Montenegro relaxed its restrictions to all countries that met a strict epidemiological criterion: if a country has fewer than 25 active cases per 100,000 people, then its citizens are allowed to enter Montenegro. Serbia does not meet this criterion, and so it is not one of the first nine countries to which Montenegro will open its borders.

Air Serbia A320 Belgrade Airport
Serbia claims that Montenegro’s travel restrictions are harming Air Serbia, and so it chose to harm Montenegro Airlines in return. Photo: Getty Images

In response, the Serbian Civil Aviation Directorate adopted what it called a “reciprocal” measure aimed at the country of Montenegro. It banned Montenegro Airlines aircraft from landing in Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, the capital of Serbia. Ordinarily, Montenegro Airlines operates two routes to Belgrade: one from Tivat, and one from Podgorica. Both of these routes see multiple daily flights.

Serbia has justified this decision by claiming that Montenegro’s continued travel restrictions for Serbian nationals are causing “serious damage” to Air Serbia because the “principle of reciprocity of the movement of people” has been violated. It has now become apparent that Serbia’s reciprocal measures are going to cause serious damage to Montenegro Airlines too.

Montenegro Airlines
Montenegro Airlines will face serious financial damage if the ban continues. Photo: via Wikimedia

Montenegro Airlines is a loss-maker, so will it survive?

Montenegro Airlines is one of the most indebted companies in Montenegro. It has been accumulating debt for years because of operational losses. It is one of the only remaining airlines in the world to operate Fokker aircraft.

Montenegro Airlines and the country of Montenegro both benefit significantly from the Montenegro Airlines routes to Serbia, because these bring tourists and foster business travel year-round. Belgrade is also an outlet to the world for travelers to and from Montenegro who transfer there. Without this route, the airline will truly struggle to survive.

What do you think the impact of the ongoing crisis in aviation will be on regional airlines like Montenegro Airlines? Let us know what you think of this story in the comments below.