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CY: London will still be served

By Stefanos Evripidou

CYPRUS AIRWAYS (CY) chairman Tony Antoniou yesterday confirmed reports that the airline was trying to sell its remaining slot at Heathrow Airport, but that no final deal had been reached yet.

In response to mounting criticism from CY pilots and a number of parties, Antoniou stressed that selling the slot would be in the company’s interests.

Speaking to public broadcaster CyBC, he said efforts were underway to sell the last remaining slot to Heathrow, as foreseen in the airline’s restructuring plan, though no deal has been concluded yet. The first to know will be the Cyprus Stock Exchange, said Antoniou.

Defending the decision against criticism, he argued that Cypriots will not suddenly be unable to fly to London if the slot is sold.

Eight airlines already fly to London, he said, adding, “It’s not only Heathrow.”
The national carrier provides only 10 per cent of the seat capacity available for flights to London, while its market share is around 7 per cent.

“Where is all this travelling public who hasn’t been using Cyprus Airways for some time now?” he said, adding, “They simply don’t prefer Cyprus Airways”.

However, CY will not abandon London as a destination, said the chairman, indicating the airline will pursue slots at other airports in the UK capital.
“To be clear, we won’t leave London.”

Antoniou blasted the constant press reports and rumours about CY closing, saying this was creating uncertainty among the travelling public regarding the airline’s viability.

“We’ve been hearing that for 13 months. Has Cyprus Airways closed? We have a flight programme that we are fighting to fill and we are doing well. What do we want to do, destroy the viability of Cyprus Airways on our own?”

Antoniou said when the current board took over, they inherited chaos, “a dead company with many problems and yet the company has stood on its feet and now operates without asking or enjoying any state aid”.

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.

Speaking after a meeting with Citizens’ Alliance leader Giorgos Lillikas yesterday, PASYPI head Petros Souppouris said it appeared there was little the pilots could do to stop the sale since “some people have decided to close Cyprus Airways down”.

Lillikas echoed similar sentiments, saying: “I am not convinced the government is trying to find a strategic partner for Cyprus Airways. On the contrary… I very much fear the aim of the government is to close Cyprus Airways.”

Opposition AKEL MP Stavros Evagorou charged the government with taking an “arrogant” stance on the national airline, insisting on selling the last Heathrow slot without informing the parties or parliament.

“It seems at Cyprus Airways, some have confused restructuring with dissolution,” he said.

EDEK’s MEP Demetris Papadakis accused the government of watching as CY is led towards a “controlled default or sale”.

“Which strategic investor will be interested in a company without a fleet, a limited flight network and near inadequate prospects for growth?” he asked.

Government partner, EVROKO’s Demetris Syllouris said the company won’t stand on its feet with recriminations and controversy but through specific proposals that provide solutions for a secure future.

The president’s adviser on aviation issues Christos Petrou joined the debate, saying Cyprus, as a tourist destination and potential energy hub and business centre, needs a national or local airline

But how can CY as it is today- with five aircraft and a limited flight network- contribute to economic and tourism growth, he asked.

Petrou expressed regret that parties felt the need to get involved in the spat over the sale of the Heathrow slot.

“I also find it depressing and counterproductive to hear people with no relation to or knowledge of aviation pretending to be experts on the matter.”

This very fact creates “very negative consequences” on the travelling public and any potential strategic investors, he said.

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