The government is not opposed to examining ways to reduce airport charges but not in such as way that would benefit only one party, Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said on Tuesday.
Demetriades made the comment during a presentation at the annual conference of the Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE) in Nicosia on the topic of the island’s air connectivity.
“There is a lot of criticism that we [our airport charges] are expensive,” he said but added that Athens was more so. “Airport costs are a factor but not the most important factor,” Demetriades said.
He admitted that certain low-cost carriers were always pressuring for cheaper passenger levies. “It is one thing to drop the fee per passenger from €29 to €20,” he said. “But they want it down from €29 to €3 or €4.”
Demetriades did concede that though there was a lot of criticism in the beginning over incentives given to Ryanair and other low-cost carriers, the fact was that they were the ones bringing in the numbers.
He said 2015 saw record passenger levels at 7.6 million travelling in and out of both Larnaca and Paphos airports. This year would see airport capacity expand to be in a position to handle 12 million, which he said was up 11 per cent since 2006.
Demetriadies said however that while passenger traffic through Athens had increased 34 per cent between 2013 and 2015, Cyprus had seen a rise of only 8 per cent in those two years.
Some 80 per cent of all passengers going through the island’s airports are tourists, and the main countries accounting for those passengers are Russia, the UK and Greece, though the latter consisted mainly of outbound passengers ie Cyprus residents.
The minister said that although Cyprus currently had quite good air cover, it could be better “and the fact that our market share comes mainly from three countries shows we have to find a way to expand into other destinations such as Germany and France where we don’t have enough penetration,” he said.
“Last year there were huge efforts made but these must continue.”
One solution was possibly re-investing some of the €328 million the state receives each year from airport operator Hermes back into the airports in the form of incentives to attract new airlines or to examine ways to lower airport costs. “But this should be done in a way that satisfies all parties,” Demetriades said.
He said he had sent a letter to the attorney-general for a legal opinion on the idea in order not to violate EU state-aid rules.
He also spoke about the efforts being made within the EU to aid travel from places like China, which Cyprus has on its radar. “Our goal must be to have as much connectivity as possible at the lowest possible prices,” the minister said.
Demetriades mentioned that Blue Air would be adding another route this year, and that there were new applications from other airlines. “This mobility has happened since Cyprus Airways closed down,” he said, adding that it goes to prove that protecting one small national carrier was not necessarily what was best for the country”. Bankrupt Cyprus Airways was shut down in January 2015.