By Stelios Orphanides
A report requested by the Ministry of Transport following a series of recent incidents which upset Cobalt’s flight programme has given the new Cypriot airline a clean bill of health.
“The Civil Aviation (Department) proposes that the air operating certificate (AOC) should remain in place and that there are no flight safety issues,” Alecos Michaelides, the ministry’s permanent secretary said in an interview to state radio CyBC on Monday. “No gaps in flight safety have been noted. With these findings, I don’t see how any measure can be taken”.
Michaelides said that representatives of the company, which acquired its AOC in May, had repeatedly met ministry officials to whom they “acknowledged some mistakes which troubled passengers”. He added that the company’s new management team “gave us some indications that these mistakes are being rectified and that no such mistakes will be noted in the near future”.
Repeated delays caused mainly by technical problems angered passengers, prompting the ministry, two weeks ago, to order an investigation. In one case, Cobalt passengers on a flight to Larnaca on August 20, remained stranded at Stansted airport for 30 hours after their aircraft suffered a flat tyre. On the same day, a plane leased by Cobalt flying from Thessaloniki to Larnaca had to make an emergency landing in Athens while the following day, the pilot of another aircraft operated by the company had to return to Manchester, 50 minutes after taking off because a censor indicated a problem with the retraction of the wheels.
Michaelides said that the problems which plagued the airline’s fleet, consisting of three aircraft – one carrying its colours and two leased short term from another airlines – “are problems that can happen to all companies and aircraft of all companies” and were not “unusually high”.
The technical problems affected “in one weekend two aircraft, but when you run a company with three aircraft and you suddenly have technical problems affecting two, then two thirds of your fleet remains grounded,” he said. “If this happens to a company which has 20 aircraft, the problem will not show”.
The permanent secretary added that the regulatory and legislative framework governing the licencing of airlines may have to be re-visited as there were gaps regarding the powers of the licencing authorities. For instance, the framework had no provision for dealing with companies that failed to stick to the conditions set for their license.
In an interview to Cyprus Business Mail, Michaelides said that “we were expecting that Cobalt would have its own aircraft already in July; because of other problems, the company was unable to acquire them” and as a result resorted to leasing them. “They are expecting in September to get their second and third aircraft”.
He added that while an airline should inform passengers that their flights would be carried out by another company, authorities did not have the power to impose a fine or force it to comply.
Michaelides who also chairs the Air Transport Licencing Authority which granted Cobalt its commercial licence in June, said that following the departure of the company’s chief executive officer Andrew Pyne and the appointment of Andrew Madar as his successor, “the situation is considerably improving”. The company gave assurances “that many things will change,” the ministry’s official said.
In a press interview last week, Madar gave an indication of the changes in Cobalt after he took office in early August. After Cobalt spent a total of €20m in 2016, including €4m on “wet leases over the past two months,” now two aircraft are tasked with executing the airline’s flight programme which keeps the third one “as spare,” he said.