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Cyprus Airways sets out to convince Brussels of its viability

By Angelos Anastasiou

A CAMPAIGN to convince the European Commission of the need for Cyprus Airways to survive began yesterday by the carrier’s Board of Directors in collaboration with the company’s consultants in Brussels and the ministry of foreign affairs, Cyprus Airways head Tony Antoniou said.

Dramatic financial woes had brought the ‘national carrier’ to the brink of collapse, but subsequent capital injections from the government raised red flags at the European Commission, which decided to take a closer look as state aid is forbidden under EU competition law. The Commission’s decision – whether or not the government bailouts constitute state aid – will determine the company’s future, as it may be asked to return any government money received, effectively triggering bankruptcy.

Speaking to state radio, Antoniou said that the board’s goal is to convince the Commission of the effectiveness of the company’s restructuring plan and expressed his confidence that the latest decisions made by the company were “in the right direction.”

“We hope that, in concert with the effort in Brussels, this will lead to a positive outcome”, he said.

The Commission is expected to announce its ruling in the Autumn.

Antoniou did not bother masking his bitterness at the decision of 48 of the company’s 73 pilots to sue the company’s management in protest of severe – though temporary – cuts to their benefits. Court bailiffs interrupted a board meeting last Thursday in order to hand court summons to eight of eleven board members.

“This executive board is literally fighting for the survival of the company, and this fight is the only reason its employees keep receiving a monthly paycheck”, he said.

“We have the approval of the minister of finance on this decision – which is to say that the company’s major shareholder agrees with the cut”, he argued.

“On the other hand, what is the purpose of the lawsuit? To secure their money or to send the board to prison? Personally, I consider this ungratefulness, to say the least.”

The pilots’ union is the only one – out of five Cyprus Airways employee unions – to have opposed a management decision to slash the employer’s contribution to employees’ provident fund from 8 per cent to 1 per cent for 15 months.

Despite criticism and charges of self-serving recklessness by their colleagues, the pilots argued that they have already accepted their fair share of cuts and proposed that the company saves money by scrapping loss-incurring departments and shedding excess staff to match the shrinkage of its fleet – currently only six aircraft.

“We have accepted the slashing of our salaries to half over the last 8 years – last year alone, we had 17 per cent cut off”, pilots’ union head Petros Souppouris said.

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