Etihad partner Air Serbia has started five-times weekly flights between Belgrade and New York from Thursday.

The route will be operated by a A330-200, which has 18 lie-flat business class seats and 236 economy seats.

The new route not only marks a key milestone for Air Serbia – the Airbus plane is its first widebody aircraft – but revives a route which was last served directly by its predecessor, JAT Airways, in 1992 (the same flight numbers, JU500 and JU501, are being used).

Flights operate on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Air Serbia chairman and Mayor of Belgrade Sinisa Mali said it is the only country regionally that flies direct to New York with its own national air carrier (others are operated by US airlines).

“This means better connectivity, more tourists to the region and Belgrade becoming a hub, and we expect more investors from North America,” he said.

For that to be achieved, wholescale investment will be needed at Belgrade Airport.

Mali said that this was his next priority and that he wanted to find a partner by the end of the year.

“It’s going to be a concession and PPP – we need a new terminal, refurbishment of existing terminals, hotels, cargo facilities, maybe a new runway,” he said.

“National airlines are usually the locomotives of growth and economic recovery and that’s exactly what’s happening with Air Serbia.”

Alongside Etihad’s 49 per cent stake in Air Serbia, commercial ties with the UAE are growing with developer Eagle Hills overseeing the development of Belgrade Waterfront.