By Constantinos Psillides
CYPRUS Airways (CY) pilots are yet again up in arms following the last minute cancellation of a House committee session to look into the current state of the national carrier.
The meeting of the House Watchdog committee was slated for Tuesday. The pilots union (PASYPI) accuses the government and CY head Tony Antoniou of trying to “sell off every asset the company has in an effort to bankrupt it”.
Georgos Georgiou, DISY MP and chairman of the House Watchdog Committee, justified his decision to cancel the meeting, saying that it was in the best interests of the company. “I take full responsibility for cancelling the discussion. Taking into consideration current circumstances and that CY is in its death throes, I though it was best not have the discussion,” Georgiou said.
The Watchdog Committee was to discuss, among others, the sale of the company’s final time slot at Heathrow airport. PASYPI strongly disagrees with this decision, claiming that it would be a death blow for the company.
Following a general meeting on Tuesday, PASYPI members said that selling the time slot would be catastrophic, adding that they no longer trusted the board, considering its members “incompetent and dangerous”.
PASYPI made clear that the state and DISY would be held accountable if the company proceeds with selling the slot.
The pilots union and the board have been in open conflict since day one. The current board took the reins with the mandate of resuscitating the ailing company and proceeded with a numbers of restructuring plans and cutbacks, which PASYPI contested. The pilots union have filed a suit against the company, arguing that some of those cutbacks are illegal.
While the pilots maintain the company is one step away from annihilation, chairman Tony Antoniou tells a completely different story.
“We took a company that was dying, we brought it back to life and we are now in the best shape we ever were,” Antoniou told the Cyprus Mail, refusing to comment on the pilots’ comments. “This is a democracy. Anyone can speak his mind,” he noted.
Antoniou claimed that it’s the first time in CY history that the company doesn’t receive state funding. “We live off what we make. We are independent and self sufficient for the first time in our history”.
Antoniou claims that he has the arguments to back up his optimism for the future of the company. “Very soon we will release CY’s financial statements. Then everyone will see what the true state of the national carrier is.”
The CY chairman said when he looks at the numbers he smiles broadly.
Antoniou refused to comment on the sale of the Heathrow time slot. “You will have to excuse me. I am not at liberty to discuss this with anyone. I am bound by confidentiality clauses which forbid me to discuss any details,” he said and not without reason.
While CY was negotiating to sell the first Heathrow time slot to Qatar Airways three months ago, the media reported on a number of details including the cost of the time slot, which was estimated at €15m. Qatar Airways immediately reacted by withdrawing their interest, citing breach of confidentiality clauses. CY ended up selling the time slot to Middle East Airlines for €6.3m on March 7.
Finance Minister Harris Georgiades also responded to the pilots’ comments, asking them to buy the company if they want to call the shots. “The government fully supports the board, especially when it comes to the handling of the time slot. The company is burdened with the mistakes of the past.”
The ailing carrier is also faced with more turbulence since the European Commission decided to look into whether capital injections from the government constitute state aid, forbidden by EU competition rules.
The EC’s ruling, expected near the end of 2014, will decide whether CY will need to return any capital received from the government.