As Poslovni Dnevnik/Marija Crnjak writes, following on from an excellent second summer flight season since its establishment, the Croatian charter carrier ETF Airways has become the very first Croatian airline to receive approval from the US Department of Transportation for flights to the USA, which will initially also open up the Caribbean market for them.
For next year, this company’s main plan is additional growth, with an increase in the fleet from three to five Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which will depend on the dynamics of signing contracts for the next summer season, but things are looking very certain, Stjepan Bedic, the CEO of ETF Airways, revealed.
ETF Airways has transported 300 thousand passengers
As is already quite well known, ETF Airways was founded back during the global coronavirus pandemic at the beginning of last year by Croatian investors and bankers, investor Ratko Bajakic, economic analyst Velimir Sonje and banker Zdenko Adrovic, who is involved in the project through his own company – Korta. Among the founders are pilots Dragan Stefanovski and Marko Bankovic, a team of enthusiasts who have already collaborated with Bedic on several startup projects in the wider region, and spent a good part of their careers working for different foreign companies.
ETF Airways took to the skies last June and they aren’t a liner company, they instead specialise in flights based on ACMI – aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance contracts, and this year they mostly flew on the Paris – Greece route, Bedic stated, adding that 2022’s summer season was excellent – this company which has about 60 employees will end the year with a profit, but they aren’t ready to reveal any of the more detailed figures yet. The potential for growth is significant, and it would be much greater if Croatia made it easier for staff to be employed, explained Bedic.
“In one single year, we flew between 5,500 and 6,000 hours at 150 airports, and transported around 300,000 passengers to different destinations. With two planes in Paris and one in Pristina, we also flew to destinations such as Svalbard, Greenland, and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. We operate on the EU’s very competitive market, where there are hundreds of such companies, but there is also a lot of demand. Therefore, growth is planned, but currently the biggest challenge for us is the employment of pilots, because Croatia has a significantly higher cost of labour than some other EU menber states, with a much higher tax burden. Slovakia, Bulgaria, Ireland and other countries are therefore much more competitive than Croatia, which, with a different tax treatment for pilots, similar to seafarers, could have a much more developed aviation industry, i.e. more companies like us,” explained Bedic, who believes that and the payment of benefited seniority is outdated and redundant.
Conquering the Caribbean market
ETF Airways is currently hiring cabin crew, and then it will look for more pilots, which will be additionally challenging because strong companies such as Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways are also in the process of hiring, and their impressive salaries cannot be compared to those offered by smaller companies such as ETF Airways. Although there are 60 employees employed directly by the company, that figure rises to 150 if external service providers in the entire ecosystem are added into the mix.
ETF Airways is entering the demanding American market through a joint venture company with a local French company, and their license to provide services across the pond in the USA will enable them to position themselves in the market of local flights to the Caribbean, as well as to popular American destinations such as Miami. There is a demand for their services there, and depending on the number of contracts signed during the winter for the next summer season, the acquisition of two new aircraft may also come to be. Namely, as Bedic pointed out, the situation on the market is still unstable in terms of last minute flight reservations, and ETF doesn’t fly without signed contracts and deposits.
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