Air Serbia is set to become one of just a few European carriers allowed to operate into Russian airspace after most European nations imposed a blanket flight ban on Russian-registered aircraft, resulting in reciprocal measures by Russian authorities.
Air Serbia, which maintains eight weekly services between Belgrade and Moscow, has seen its flights sell out on the route until Thursday, with the airline now beginning to schedule its wide-body Airbus A330-200 aircraft on select dates this week in order to offer more seats. Before adding more capacity, flights from the Russian capital to Belgrade were sold out until Saturday, with exception to Wednesday where few seats remained available. Aeroflot, which maintained eight weekly flights from Russia to Belgrade, and Nordwind Airlines, which operated a two weekly service, have been forced to suspend their operations to the Serbian capital, as their aircraft are no longer able to navigate the airspace bans in order to reach the city.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said yesterday, “We are shutting down EU airspace for Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft”. Macedonia and Montenegro will also join in on the ban. At this point, the European Union has not blocked foreign carriers from using its airspace for flights destined to Russia. However, this could change. The closure of European airspace to Russian airlines and vice versa has had immediate impact on global aviation. Air France said it was temporarily suspending flights to and from China, Korea and Japan, while it “studies flight plan options to avoid Russian airspace, in compliance with French and international authorities’ directives”. Finnair said a Russian retaliation on Finland’s airspace ban would prolong flight times so much that it would not be viable to operate its Asian flights.
In addition to Moscow, Air Serbia is currently operating a one weekly service from Belgrade to St Petersburg. During the summer season, the carrier also runs flights to Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, while it plans to inaugurate services to Sochi from June. However, most of the latter destinations are dependent on Russian transfer passengers heading to Western Europe. European Union member states are highly likely to stop issuing Schengen visas to Russian citizens. Russia is one of Belgrade Airport’s biggest markets, with Russian citizens permitted visa-free entry into Serbia. During the pre-pandemic 2019, a total of 329.543 passengers flew between Belgrade and Moscow.