Air Serbia (JU, Belgrade Nikola Tesla) may reinstate its own maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) unit as well as new catering and ground handling divisions because of tensions with third-party providers in recent years, CEO Jiří Marek has told the Polish aviation news site Rynek Lotniczy in an interview.

Relations between Air Serbia and its main MRO provider, Polish-owned JAT Tehnika, have been strained this year over bottlenecks, prompting the airline to send some of its aircraft to Istanbul for maintenance. Belgrade has reportedly been in talks with Turkish Airlines and its MRO unit, Turkish Technic, about the possibility of opening a joint MRO operation in the Serbian capital.

“We are considering various options,” he told Rynek Lotniczy. “If we want to have full control over the implementation of previously planned operations and not rely on 'leaky' outsourcing, then yes, this is one of the solutions. We want to establish an MRO hangar at the airport as part of a joint-venture agreement with a partner who specialises in aircraft repairs.”

He elaborated: “Before the pandemic, outsourcing was normal in the industry. It was part of the transformation. Airlines abandoned companies dealing in catering, handling, and aircraft maintenance services. During the pandemic, everyone started to look at expense accounts and cut fixed costs. Since last year, when demand for air travel increased rapidly, it is mainly the airports that have been struggling with problems.”

He added that Air Serbia was also “looking at relaunching the catering business. We are dissatisfied with the product of a company we’ve had a contract with for two years, and this is the only supplier. We are also thinking about our own cargo handling services.”

Air Serbia transferred its ground handling unit to the Belgrade airport operator in November 2017 in an effort to improve profitability, according to reports at the time. Under the guidance of then-shareholder Etihad Airways, a period of deep restructuring ensued focussed on making the company leaner and more efficient.