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article imageCroatia Airlines announces Zagreb to Belgrade, plans Russia

By Paul Bradbury     Jan 7, 2012 in Travel
Croatia Airlines announces the first direct flights between the Serbian and Croatian capitals after a break of 21 years.
National carrier Croatia Airlines has announced the start of direct flights from Zagreb to Belgrade on its summer schedule, the first direct flights between the capital cities of the two former Yugoslav republics since flights were interrupted by conflict in the region, according to a report in Croatian daily, Vecernji List on January 6, 2012.
Resumption of Belgrade flights after 21 years
The route was announced by Croatia Airlines CEO Srećko Šimunović at the Star Alliance conference in Addis Adaba, of which Croatia Airlines is a member. While the route will be the first scheduled flight between the two capitals - which are 400km apart and a four-hour drive by motorway - since the outbreak of conflict in 1991, it is not the first direct connection between the two countries. Serbian national airline JAT established a route between Belgrade and the northern coastal city of 2008, and it was immediately successful, becoming the airline's most profitable route with 98% occupancy, according to a report in National in 2009.
In addition to the Belgrade announcement, additional flights to Russia and Bulgaria were announced, as Croatia Airlines looks to expand East. The Croatian carrier will also fly directly to Moscow, with new routes to Sofia and St. Petersburg planned for 2014, as it eyes a return to profitability since its last break even year of 2007.
Domestic monopoly, 30% of tourist traffic
The airline's market share of domestic routes is undisputed - 100% - but its share of international fluctuates wildly, with competition fierce in the more lucrative summer months, when numerous budget airlines supply an array of destinations to the Adriatic coast, principally the Dalmatian coastal airports of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik, where Šimunović estimates Croatia Airlines captures only 30% of the tourist market.
“In the summer season in Croatian skies we have 86 competitors – all the main low-cost carriers, all the main legacy carriers and all main charter carriers,” Šimunović explained in a recent interview for Centre for Aviation. “They are supported by local authorities – the airports, etc. They are given a lot of money [in incentives].”
Increased flights from eastern competitors
The increased competition is not limited to the budget carriers such as German Wings, easyJet, Wizzair, Ryanair and Norwegian, who have expanded routes and choice for tourists wanting to visit star attractions such as Dubrovnik and Hvar, which was named by Lonely Planet as its number 5 destination for 2012. Many national airlines are now looking to get a piece of the booming Croatian tourism action, especially from the East, target markets named by the Croatian Tourist Board.
The eastern interest is already being translated into scheduled flights, with Finnair starting a direct link between Helsinki and Dubrovnik, driven by requests from Asian clients. Aeroflot flew Russian tourists from Moscow into Dubrovnik last year, and Qatar Airways will start a service from Doha this year. With increased interest in Croatian tourism and EU integration around the corner bound to increase competition, there are many challenges ahead for Croatia Airlines.
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