Air Serbia (JU, Belgrade) is planning to grow its cooperation with Greece's Marathon Airlines (O8, Athens) and wet-lease up to six Embraer regional jets from the carrier during the Summer 2024 season, according to its chief executive.

"It's not a typical wet lease, it's a growing partnership towards a capacity purchase agreement. At the moment, we're targeting five to six units for next summer. That depends very much on how Marathon will be able to source aircraft," Jiri Marek told Aviation Week.

The Serbian carrier is currently wet-leasing one E175, one E190, and two E195s from the Greek carrier. The E175 is an interim solution pending the delivery of another E195 by the end of the year. A fourth E195 will be delivered in early 2024. The aircraft are filling the capacity gap between Air Serbia's 70-72-seat ATR72-600s and 144-seat A319-100s. Marek stressed that as a hub carrier, Air Serbia is focused on growing frequencies rather than adding capacity to existing services, a role for which the Embraer jets are well suited.

The wet-leased aircraft have also replaced the ATR - Avions de Transport Régional turboprops on some routes in need of more capacity. Air Serbia also sees them as a stepping stone towards the eventual retirement of the A319s in the future. Its short- and medium-haul fleet currently comprises seven ATR72-600s, ten A319s, and three A320-200s.

The airline is happy with the E1s given the engine issues plaguing the E2 generation, Marek emphasised.

Air Serbia is similarly content with the A320ceo Family aircraft and does not plan to transition to A320neo Family aircraft any time soon.

"With the existing size, we still can capitalise on the current volatile market and continue to target secondary, mid-aged, mature aircraft until we reach a size of between 35 and 40 aircraft. When we reach that size, it starts to become critical to establish long-term fleet plans, including possible new orders from manufacturers, which will naturally mean evolving to new technology. In a way, we are lucky not to have the new technology yet - like the A320neo, for example - due to growing problems with the engine," Marek said.

The airline could place an order for new aircraft when it increases the total fleet size to 35-40 aircraft from the current 22 in-house units.

In terms of its widebody fleet, Air Serbia has deferred plans to add the third A330-200 until 2024. The aircraft was initially due to join the carrier's fleet in July 2023, but supply chain issues prompted the lessor to scrap the aircraft and sell engines instead. The carrier is now looking for a new option in a tight market and hopes the third widebody will be delivered by the second quarter of 2024. The additional capacity will be deployed on new routes to China (Shanghai Pudong and Guangzhou) and boost frequencies to New York JFK.

Air Serbia plans to increase its A330 fleet to four in 2024 and this "could potentially grow to eight". The airline's priority is further growth in China.

With its fleet soon due to exceed 30 aircraft, Air Serbia is also evaluating options to invest in its own MRO centre.