By Jean Christou
The government’s adviser on aviation, Christos Petrou said on Monday he had resigned because his recommendations on aviation and on Cyprus Airways had not only not been taken seriously by ministers but had not even been discussed.
Petrou, whose position was unpaid, said in a lengthy statement that he had submitted his resignation on Friday to President Nicos Anastasiades.
He said he had been discouraged in his efforts by being given reasons that he said had nothing to do with the national interest and everything to do with people who had the impression “that the Cypriot state is their property”.
Petrou said that since taking office in 2013, he had presented a series of recommendations on various aspects of the aviation sector on the basis of his mandate and an action plan submitted to the President in September last year.
The recommendations concerned the restructuring of civil aviation, political issues in the field of aviation related to the Cyprus problem, relations with international and European organisations for air transport, regional cooperation on safety issues, potential investments in the aviation sector and Cyprus Airways.
With the exception of the initial stages of the issue of restructuring of Civil Aviation, where Petrou said he had excellent cooperation with the late former Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos, “none of my suggestions were implemented or taken seriously, or even discussed, even though I was told by the President that he had sent them to the relevant ministers” Petrou said.
He said he himself did not have any political affiliations nor could have in any way benefitted personally through his recommendations. But as someone with 23 years experience as head of International Relations at EUROCONTROL, the President had chosen him as an expert consultant. He said he has also advised two previous presidents, Demetris Christofias and Tassos Papadopoulos while he was still at EUROCONTROL.
The same could not be said of the current Communications Minister Marios Demetriades, he said. When he asked to meet the minister on restructuring and improving Cyprus’ civil aviation “the performance of which was among the worst in Europe”, all he was granted was five minutes in a coffee shop at 7am and told that someone from the private sector “obviously costly” had been appointed to the task.
On Cyprus Airways (CY), Petrou said he had given specific recommendations, as had the foreign experts “employed for €50,000 a month”.
“The ministerial committee preferred to listen to the advice of the expensive consultants and began an unorthodox and stillborn process of finding a strategic investor even with the certainty that the EU’s response to the issue of state aid [to CY] would be 99 per cent negative,” said Petrou.
He was referring to an imminent decision by the European Commission on whether several state handouts to the national carrier worth around €100m would have to be given back if found to have violated EU regulations. If the airline has to give the money back, it will have to fold.
In the meantime, Ryanair and Aegean are the two main contenders for Cyprus Airways but talks are not going well as both airlines have their own plans for what is and is not valuable when it comes to CY’s remaining assets.
Petrou said the government’s tactic has been a new push to convince the Commission to issue a positive response. He said this whole saga had taken up five months and a lot of money when the state should have used that time and cash to consolidate the company.
All they had managed to do was create a lot of confusion and uncertainty among the staff, the tourism industry and the public, he said.
“As there is still no clear objective and strategy and those divided directors and managers who are largely responsible for the dire situation in the company and who have demonstrably proven their lack of understanding of the complex field of aviation, are still in their positions,” said Petrou.
He suggests a number of actions to reverse the situation, including the suspension of the hunt of a strategic investor, a direct request to the EU to postpone its decision for six months, reshuffling of the board and bringing in people with aviation expertise to update the existing restructuring plan before trying to persuade the EU to give a positive response.