The date marking the beginning of civil aviation in Serbia was June 17, 1927, the founding date of the Society for Air Transport AEROPUT, later succeeded by Yugoslav Airlines and now by Air Serbia. As a result of the extensive engagement in the country's defense of the flight and technical staff of Aeroput in the Second World War, the airline was liquidated in 1943.
In mid-January 1947, the civil aviation traffic administration became part of the Transport Ministry of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, thereby confirming its civilian status, and on 17 March, pilots, navigators, radio operators and flight mechanics were transferred from the Transport Regiment to the newly formed company. In the meantime, the company acquired modified aircraft and the start of the first flying season was set for 1 April 1947, the day when the first aircraft of the new airline, Yugoslav Airlines (JAT), took off. JAT staff included pilots and mechanics from AEROPUT who joined Yugoslav Airlines at the start or soon after.
Yugoslav Airlines started operation with two C-47 aircraft modified into DC-3s and two JU-52 Junkers. In the course of the year, the fleet grew by another JU-52, four DC-3s, and one unmodified C-47 intended for cargo transport. These aircraft maintained regular traffic on domestic routes: Belgrade-Zagreb-Ljubljana and Zagreb-Sarajevo, and on the international route: Belgrade-Prague-Warsaw.
The first three Caravelle airplanes joined the JAT fleet in 1963, and the fleet continued to grow six years later with the addition of the first Douglas DC-9. At the same time, the last of the veteran piston engine aircraft, the DC-3 and Convair, left the fleet. The introduction of jet-engine aircraft enabled more comfortable and affordable flights - far exceeding the characteristics of piston-engine aircraft. With increased capacity and range, these planes served as a basis for expanding the flight network. This was the main course of Yugoslav Airlines development through the early 1970s, a period tentatively termed by the company as "the beginning of jet aviation".
Just as the beginning of the 1960s was decisive due to the introduction of the first jet-engine aircraft, so were the 1970s with the introduction of the "big Boeing" - the B-707, after which the first charter lines were established to North America with regular traffic. In addition to the introduction of the Douglas DC-10-30, the first wide-body aircraft, in 1978, this period represented the beginning of one of the most important stages in JAT's evolution.
Persistent investment in modernization and the acquisition of the DC-10-30 guided Yugoslav Airlines to yet another phase of development, the so-called wide-body stage, which was followed several years later by the purchase of a medium-range aircraft - the B-737. This acquisition, among the first in Europe, established a basic pre-condition for further expansion of traffic in nearly all directions. Also, existing lines in Europe, the Middle East and Africa were significantly extended, followed by network expansion to the US, Canada and Australia.
During those "golden years", as some JAT chroniclers have dubbed the period, Yugoslav Airlines opened many offices abroad, carried five million passengers annually, continued to develop and modernize its technical operations parallel to developing service activities such as general aviation, hotel commerce, operating its own training centre and investing in infrastructure. JAT also constructed a large hangar to accommodate wide-body aircraft and a jet-engine test stand, which enabled the company to master the technique of examining engines and other components for modern fleets. Furthermore, the company proved excellent in business skills, successfully negotiating contracts with several third world companies.
Meanwhile, JAT developed its information system and introduced automatic ticket sales. In short, the company made a bid to meet its competition by responding to the growing demands and expectations of its passengers while continuing to satisfy regular passengers by living up to the famous company slogan - JAT is more than flying!
In the late 1980s, Yugoslav Airlines flew more than 300 routes, two-thirds of them international. In the record 1987/88/89 years, JAT connected Yugoslavia with 61 world destinations on five continents and carried annually 5 million passengers and 46,000 tons of cargo. At the time, JAT figured high on the list of largest IATA and AEA air carriers – it ranked 31st in the world and 10th in Europe.
The early 1990s were the toughest period in the post-WWII history of former Yugoslavia - war, break-up of the country and sanctions that invited the most crippling effects precisely on the national air carrier. Soon after the initial tragic events, JAT returned on the market and began to catch up with the world. Already in 1994, it renewed routes to the previous destinations and launched a new era in its development dominated by the struggle to survive in the world skies.
Yugoslav Airlines changed its name to Jat Airways on 8 August 2003. In 2006, for the first time since 1991, Jat finished the business year with a positive result.
This was followed by a difficult period for world aviation in general, which left its mark on the Serb airline struggling during this time to find a strategic partner.
After several attempts, on 1 August 2013, Etihad Airways, Jat Airways, and the Government of the Republic of Serbia announced a strategic partnership aimed towards ensuring the future of the Serb national carrier. Etihad Airways signed a five-year contract for management of the newly founded airline in which Etihad Airways would have 49% equity share, while Jat Airways would be rebranded to Air Serbia. Etihad and the Government of the Republic of Serbia undertook to invest USD 40 million each and to provide additional resources up to the maximum amount of USD 60 million. On 25 October 2013, Air Serbia was officially launched by Deputy Prime Minister. The rebranding of Jat Airways to Air Serbia coincided with a fleet modernization strategy and network expansion. A new name, a new brand, new destinations, the arrival of new aircraft types to the fleet, new catering onboard, an entirely new approach to passengers, now perceived and welcomed as guests to be honored and treated with style, and new benefits for the company's loyal passengers, whose numbers are growing by the day.
Airbus A319 aircraft joined the Air Serbia fleet, refurbished with an entirely new interior and new on-board meal catering service. The aim of Air Serbia is to become a regional leader and to resume its place among the world's best airlines.
Further growth is made possible by the partnership with Etihad Airways, the national air carrier of the United Arab Emirates. As a member of its equity partner alliance, currently comprising five partner airlines (Air Berlin, Air Seychelles, Aer Lingus, Virgin Australia, and Jet Airways), Air Serbia can become profitable and benefit from the financial advantages of code share agreements, joint procurement, training, and staff development undertakings.
Air Serbia's strategic goal is to become the leading airline in the region and to resume its place among the leading air carriers in the world.