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JAT Agrees Marketing Alliance With Etihad

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Serbia's JAT Airways has secured a marketing alliance with Etihad Airways to codeshare, stopping short of the equity tie-up mooted by Serbia's government.

Mired in recession and struggling to find investors in the European Union, Serbia had hoped Abu Dhabi-based Etihad would buy a stake in JAT, with media reports suggesting 49 percent was up for sale.

Etihad chief executive James Hogan told a news conference on Monday that any investment could be a long way off.

"We have to look at JAT to see if that opportunity exists. It is still a very early stage of that process."

JAT will add its JU code to flights to 21 destinations within Etihad's network, while the Gulf airline will put its EY code on all 23 JAT flights within Europe, Hogan said.

Etihad will start operating flights between Abu Dhabi and Belgrade on June 15, following Gulf competitor Qatar Airways, which started flights between Doha and the Serbian capital via Ankara late last year.

Serbia has been trying to offload JAT for years.

Last month the government said it was ready to take on EUR€170 million (USD$222.66 million) of the carrier's debt, pay leases for six new aircraft from Airbus and secure severance payments for redundant workers.

JAT operates 10 older Boeing 737-300s and four ATR 72-200 turboprop aircraft on 30 routes within Europe and to the Middle East.

Serbia is looking east for investment and sovereign lenders including Russia, China and the United Arab Emirates.

Belgrade has already secured a USD$400 million sovereign loan from Abu Dhabi for agriculture investment and agreed more than USD$400 million in investment by the Al Dahra agricultural firm based in the emirate.

(Reuters)