Serbia's Jat to cut workforce and take A320s

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Serbian flag-carrier Jat Airways claims the government commission responsible for troubled airline has accepted a restructuring plan proposed by the operator, which includes axing nearly 50% of jobs and leasing additional aircraft.

Under the plan Jat would lease four Airbus A320-family jets and two ATR 72-500 turboprops to cope with a fleet shortage.

The airline confirms that out of 14 aircraft - 10 Boeing 737s and four ATR 72s - only seven are currently in operation, forcing it to revise timetables and cut frequencies to some destinations.

Sources familiar with the situation indicate that the airline has received a $10 million loan to be used for maintenance and repayment of debts to fuel suppliers.

Jat Airways' escape plan includes cutting its workforce to 740 personnel, including 156 flight crew, down from 1,138 employees.

It will also "revise" its relationship with Belgrade airport, its fuel supplier, caterer and handling agent, and maintenance firm Jat Tehnika - some of which were formerly an integral part of airline before being spun off as independent companies.

Jat started the year with some 5.5 billion dinars ($66 million) of debt, mostly towards these companies. It hopes to introduce two new Airbus A319s and two A320s, as well as two ATR 72-500s, before June, and operate 14 aircraft for the summer peak.

This could lead to resurrection and restructuring of the long-dormant order for eight A319s. Jat intends the revised fleet and reduced workforce, along with amended relations with domestic suppliers, to halve losses and help increase passenger numbers to 1.5 million - up from 1.36 million in 2012.

Jat Tehnika managing director Srđan Mišković says the maintenance company has received the necessary certificates to be "fully capable" of offering both line and heavy support for A320-family jets. It currently services Boeing 737 and ATR fleets, and last year recorded a "steady" turnover with a "slightly positive, yet to be specified" result.

Around half of its work is performed for Jat Airways, the rest for third-party clients such as Jet2, Europe Airpost and Transaero.