Montenegro Airlines has extended its planned flight suspension until 15th May, but it does not expect to start commercial operations again until June. The Montenegrin flag carrier said it is on a mission to bring as many tourists to Montenegro this year as possible.
Montenegro Airlines is grounded
As part of a wave of airline groundings across Europe, Montenegro Airlines stopped all commercial flights on 16th March.
Montenegro was the last European country to record its first case of COVID-19, following the imposition of strict travel restrictions to the country. In February, the Montenegrin Ministry of Health issued a ban for all travel between Montenegro and Northern Italy, and vice versa. This was effectively a ban on Wizz Air and Ryanair from the country.
Montenegro Airlines remains grounded, and its current flight suspension is officially in place until Friday, 15th May. On that day, the airline will operate its first flight in two months, to Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport.
However, the Montenegrin national airline told Vijesti that “in light of the latest measures presented by NKT [national coordination body], first flights are expected in June.”
Montenegro Airlines said that its first flights would be regional operations. Only in the second phase of its emergence from grounding will it resume flights to its wider international network. Even so, Montenegro’s international network will see “reduced intensity” because of the slump in demand the airline is already recording through advance bookings and its expectations based on negative worldwide aviation trends.
Where will it restart operations?
Unsurprisingly, the first flight Montenegro Airlines has scheduled is to Belgrade, in neighboring Serbia. However, the date of 16th May is unexpected, since Serbia does not expect to open its airports until 18th May at the earliest.
Along with Belgrade, Montenegro Airlines is likely to immediately resume its routes that are least dependent on fragile tourist demand. For example, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Moscow are two routes that are sustained through demand that does not rely on tourism.
Frankfurt, Paris, and Vienna could also be early routes to resume since Montenegro Airlines acts as a feeder to various major carriers through these hubs. For example, the flights to Vienna from Podgorica leave in the mornings, perfectly timed to connect onto Austrian Airlines’ late morning departure wave. Austrian Airlines and Montenegro Airlines operate a codeshare between Podgorica and Vienna.
Last year, between 1st March and 1st June, Montenegro Airlines recorded revenues in excess of €13 million ($14 million). This year it will have been grounded for almost all of this period, which will be a significant blow for the airline’s finances.
The airline is now hoping to reduce its losses by generating as much revenue as possible in the summer months when tourists usually flock to its base in Podgorica and seasonal focus city of Tivat. But will the tourists come?
What do you think are the prospects for smaller European airlines like Montenegro Airlines? Let us know what you think in the comments below.