Insights from South East Europe Aviation Summit


Quite a few interesting things are currently going on in the aviation industry in Europe's South-Eastern flank: airport and airline privatization are driving a wave of investment that is expect to spur growth in the region.

Earlier this month the who's who of the region's aviation industry, plus quite a few high profile aviation professionals from further away, gathered in Belgrade for the first edition of the South East Europe Aviation Summit (SEEAS).

The first day was focused on the airlines and airports while the second one was dedicated to aircraft manufacturing, mro and military aviation.

Air Serbia's turn-around

One of the most awaited interventions was that of Etihad's CEO, James Hogan.

Not for nothing, Etihad has been instrumental in the re-capitalization and re-launch of Serbia´s flag carrier, formerly known as JAT, now Air Serbia (that happened to be also one of the event's sponsors).

Although the strategy of acquiring minority stakes in ailing European airlines has recently been called into question, no one at the event had any doubts that Air Serbia's transformation, with Etihad at the helm, has been deep and substantial.

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This goes well beyond the financial aspects of the operation, with a positive change in corporate culture and staff morale being often cited as one of the remarkable effects of the turn-around. 

Two pieces of anecdotal evidence that I heard during the event:  

First the inspirational story, told by a senior Air Serbia executive, of a very junior member at the airline's cleaning staff that through sheer effort and dedication, that included self-learning English, had managed to successfully rise through the ranks.

The other was the very positive impression that Air Serbia's inflight service and, particularly, the crew's professionality, elicited in some of the attendees that had flown to Belgrade all the way from the US. In their words, the level of service was comparable to the best practices of the Gulf carriers.

The flight between Belgrade and New York is, indeed, the jewel of the crown for Air Serbia, that has allocated to it its one and only Airbus A330. A small drop in the broader transatlantic market, but a milestone of huge symbolic significance for Air Serbia and Belgrade airport.

Belgrade's main opportunity, though, lies in retaking its traditional role as a regional hub in the Balkan region. No wonder, then, that the conference got quite a lot of attention from the major regional aircraft manufacturers. Although Superjet dropped out at the last moment, both Embraer and Bombardier, as well as Boeing, send high profile executives to discuss the prospects for the region.

Here are some short videos that the colleagues at AirInsight have put together, that I am sure will be of interest to all those that keep an eye on this region.

Looking forward to South East Europe Aviation Summit 2017!