By Elias Hazou
CYPRUS Airways (CY) denied yesterday that it had already sold the airline’s remaining time slot at Heathrow Airport, but did not entirely rule out the possibility in the future.
CY chairman Tony Antoniou dismissed speculation the national carrier had dumped its slot at Heathrow, adding that had such a move taken place the airline would have released a statement.
Nevertheless, Antoniou said that if any operation is loss-making, it makes economic sense to terminate it no matter how much revenue it is generating.
CY is understood to be currently negotiating the sale of the slot, but has declined to disclose any details, likely fearful of scuppering a potential deal.
While CY was negotiating to sell the first Heathrow time slot to Qatar Airways some months back, the media reported on a number of specifics, including the cost of the time slot, 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.
The airline’s pilots union PASYPI is dead set against selling the remaining Heathrow operation, warning that this could jeopardise the airline’s long-term viability.
Allegations that CY had ditched the slot surfaced earlier in the day, with PASYPI suggesting in a statement that the transaction was all but a done deal.
Weighing in, opposition AKEL claimed to have information that the airline was instructed to stop flights to Heathrow as of September 15.
This, AKEL argued, was why a session of the House Watchdog Committee was cancelled earlier this week. The meeting had been scheduled to discuss the sale of the time slot; both airline unions and management had been summoned to the meeting. The reason for cancelling the session was to give CY’s management time to close the slot deal on the sly, AKEL charged.
Starting from Wednesday up until Thursday morning, an apparent technical glitch with CY’s online booking did not allow punters to fly to or from Heathrow beyond September 15, returning a ‘no flights available’ message.
This led both AKEL and the pilots union to deduce that the slot had been sold prior to the start of the next season (mid-September).
But their detective work – and their conspiracy theory – came undone by yesterday afternoon, when CY’s online malfunction was repaired and bookings were possible beyond September 15.
Mix-up aside, Antoniou – who bore the brunt of the pilots’ criticism – hit back at claims that management was stripping the airline of all its valuable assets and destinations.
He said CY are planning to add further flights to Stansted airport, as well as slashing ticket prices on flights to London.
“We took charge of a zombie company and have brought it back to life,” Antoniou added.
The current board took the reins with a mandate to resuscitate the ailing company and proceeded with a series of restructuring plans and cutbacks, which PASYPI contested. The pilots union has filed a law suit against the company, arguing that some of those cutbacks are illegal.
The pilots have made no secret of their lack of confidence in the airline’s leadership.
Petros Souppouris, head of the PASYPI union, told the Mail that instead of selling off time slots, the airline should be looking to cut expenses across the board.
The pilots want aviation experts to come in and take over revenue management for an interim period to set CY’s books in order.
Souppouris said that should CY sell off its remaining slot at Heathrow, islanders will be able to travel to London only on British Airways. The lack of competition would inevitably drive prices up.