Efforts to improve co-operation between Balkan airlines are expected to increase this year as the Association of European Airlines (AEA) urges the region's governments to work together to improve the area's poor air transport performance.

Delegates attending the AEA's second southern European airlines conference, which is being held in Zagreb, Croatia in June, are expected to advance plans for a pan-Balkan airline (Flight International, 24 February-2 March). But senior sources within the association doubt the viability of such a venture until the region's infrastructure and political problems can be overcome.

The Balkan region, which centres on the former Yugoslavia, has experienced significant upheaval over the past decade due to a series of civil wars and unrest. An AEA report following the first conference, held in November 2003, found that the Balkan region is one of Europe's poorest performing areas, despite a population of around 60 million. The report points to the lack of regional political co-operation; low average gross domestic product; and a lack of political stability as being key contributing factors. There are also barriers to the free movement of goods and people; frequent state interference in airline operations; and a high concentration of low-yield short-haul routes among the region's many carriers. The association is urging co-ordinated air traffic control, common customs and greater route integration ahead of more ambitious plans to form a joint company.

Slobodan Babic, senior vice-president for traffic at Serbian flag carrier Jat Airways, says the response from the region's carriers to a European Union-sponsored proposal to form a single airline has been positive. "Look at the example of Scandinavia, where three nations pooled their airline - that proves it can work," he says. Babic says the Balkan region has an advantage in its traffic figures and intra-region connections starting from a low base.


Source: Flight International