BELGRADE, July 12 Serbia and Turkey moved closer
to an aviation deal on Monday after the countries' leaders
pledged to speed up talks that could see indebted Serbian flag
carrier JAT Airways merge with Turkish Airlines (THYAO.IS).
In March, Serbia announced it would split JAT into two
separate companies with one assuming debts and the other
profitable assets, in order to attract a strategic partner that
was likely to be Turkish Airlines. [ID:nLDE62F10L]
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he and his
Serbian counterpart Mirko Cvetkovic discussed cooperation
between JAT and Turkish Airlines and the conversion of a
military air base in Serbia's Southwest into a civilian airport.
"We are ready for steps that will make that cooperation
possible. I am promising to do my best that the people of Serbia
have links to every corner of the world through our two
companies," Erdogan told a news conference in Belgrade, speaking
through an interpreter.
Cvetkovic only said he and Erdogan "tackled aviation
In March, JAT Airways announced a 16.5 million euro ($21.97
million) loss for 2009 and said it planned to borrow 51.5
million euros to renew its ageing fleet and prepare for a
potential partnership with Turkish Airlines.
JAT Airways operates a fleet of 15 aircraft comprised of
ageing Boeing 737-300, Boeing 737-400 and ATR 72-200s.
In 2008 Turkish Airlines took over a 49 percent stake in BH
Airlines in neighbouring Bosnia and pledged to invest 5 million
euros to lease a Boeing 737 aircraft and secure another aircraft
at a later date.
In April JAT announced the sale of its headquarters building
in Belgrade to state landline operator Telekom Srbije for 10.3
million euros, to pay back government's loan from 2009.
During Erdogan's visit, Serbia and Turkey also signed a
series of agreements that will pave the way for construction of
a highway linking Belgrade and the southwestern region of
Sandzak which has sizable ethnic Muslim minority and is
bordering Bosnia, Kosovo and Montenegro.
The fellow EU aspirants also abolished visa requirements
between the two countries.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Simon Jessop)