Executives of the Yugoslav national carrier JAT have begun talks with airlines in neighbouring countries on the formation of a south-eastern European airline alliance.

"We have had discussions with a number of our neighbours but it's early days and no decisions have been made" JAT President Mihailo Vujnovic tells Flight International. "We also need the approval of our governments."

According to JAT executives, the plan is for airlines in the newly independent republics of the old Yugoslavia and other neighbouring countries to share maintenance, spares and engines, and other logistic support facilities, as well as look at ways to reduce duplication and overcapacity on scheduled services from the region to western Europe. The alliance could eventually include long-haul flights to North America and Asia.

The recent change of government in Belgrade has led to speculation that state-owned JAT might be privatised, but the airline's executives are against any rapid change in the company's status. "Why hurry - we should raise the value of the company first by regenerating its markets, then privatise" says Vujnovic.

Danilo Marincek, JAT vice president for resource management and marketing, believes the region's low wage levels make it an attractive maintenance supplier for western European airlines. "Many airlines in this region use Boeing 737s so we already have the know-how." he says.

Restoration of diplomatic relations with western European countries and the USA has raised hopes that sanctions against Yugoslavia could soon be lifted. JAT is particularly keen to see the lifting of US sanctions preventing the supply of spares for its Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft and the opening of US airports. A major aim of the company is re-gaining international approvals and work is under way with the Yugoslav Federal transport ministry to complete the necessary measures, says Marincek.

Since the suspension of the European Union flight ban earlier this year, JAT's activity has risen steadily. "We are not just interested in regional routes. We used to be a world-wide carrier," said Marincek. "We plan to put 25-26 aircraft from our 30 in operation in the spring" says Vujnovic.

Source: Flight International