IT HAS been some time since we last heard a politician mouthing grand plans about making Cyprus a regional centre of something or other, plans that never materialise. On Monday, this ambition resurfaced at a conference on Cyprus Aviation 2040, with the Transport Minister Vasiliki Anastasiades announcing that her ministry’s strategic aim was to turn Cyprus into an air transport centre for the broader Middle East region.
In the past politicians spoke about turning the island into a regional centre for higher education, for medical care, for energy and a host of other services. These grand plans never moved from the realm of fantasy because there was no serious thinking given to them or any proper planning carried out. And now the transport ministry has a strategic aim to make the island into an air transport hub for the Middle East, yet this seems even more unrealistic than all other regional centre plans.
At present, despite our open skies policy, Cyprus’ air connectivity is poor and although it has been improving over the years, airlines are not queuing up to secure links to Cyprus. The reason is the small population size which translates into relatively small demand for flights. There are also much bigger airports in cities with much bigger populations operating as air transport centres in the region. Also, do our airports have the capacity to operate as air transport hubs?
Another consideration is tourism. Both our airports are situated close to coastal tourist resorts. Would an increase in air traffic not negatively impact the tourism industry? There are many tourists using Mackenzie Beach in Larnaca, which is under the flight path to the airport but most tourists would not appreciate holidaying in busy air transport centre. Has anyone even considered the effects of such a centre on the environment?
Before announcing these grand plans, ministers should commission studies about the impact on other industries, the availability of resources and infrastructure, the legal framework, effects on the environment, not to mention economic viability. As we suspect none of this has been done, the minister’s announcement could, at best, be described as rash and superficial. The ministry should carry out all the necessary studies and only then announce an ambitious plan such as this.
And once the studies show the plan could be successful, technocrats would have to go to the drawing board and work out an implementation strategy, set out timeframes, improve infrastructure, draft a marketing scheme and develop incentives for airlines etc. This is a complex project requiring detailed planning, which we doubt has been undertaken. It seems that for ministers making the announcement is all that matters.