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7 May 2016
How many of us have cringed at the prospect of buying our airline tickets to fly in or out of Cyprus?
Air travel has now never the been cheaper to the island and the harsh reality for Cyprus is that underwater motorways and submarine cars are still a long way off.
But all that promises to change with the arrival of fresh competition that is expected to broaden not only our options in terms of flying direct to our destinations but also to cushion the impact on our bank accounts.
Better options for travelling out of Cyprus are currently on departure boards at both Larnaca and Paphos airport but things are expected to get even better. Whether we will be spoilt for choice, however, remains to be seen.
Apart from chartered flights or routes out of Cyprus available on the back-end of returning fights out of the island, standard direct flights out of the island have increased somewhat since the spectacular collapse of national carrier Cyprus Airways.
Thanks to the likes of Aegean Airways, Blue Air and Ryanair (out of Paphos only) picking up the mantle, people in Cyprus can now fly directly to the UK, Greece, France, Israel, Belgium, Poland and even more outland places like Lithuania.
Earlier this week, a new Ellinair flight route connecting Larnaca to Salonica was announced by the Greek airliner – that recently opened up an office in Limassol – which would see five flights per week, with tickets going as cheap as €19 including one piece of luggage.
And now, there are new kids on the block and it could be that local big-hitters Aegean, Blue Air and Ryanair will be up against some stiff competition that would force them to knock down their ticket fares even more.
And that’s not all.
Some of the new airlines are willing to spread their wings just that bit further. During an interview with The Cyprus Weekly earlier this year, Cobalt CEO Andrew Pyne confirmed that there were plans in the pipeline for long-distance direct flights from Larnaca to North America, South Africa, India and Beijing.
The news was music to the ears of most people in Cyprus who for years have resorted to wandering aimlessly around terminals in cities like London, Amsterdam and Paris waiting to catch their connecting flight to venture the Atlantic.
Whether or not Cobalt will be the only Cypriot airliner slinging its hook so far off Cyprus’ shores remains unclear.
With the exception of TUS – that has already launched with a fleet of smaller aircraft to connect the dots between Cyprus, Israel and Greece – Orion and Charlie are playing their cards close to their chests at the moment.
One airline official – who wished to remain anonymous – tentatively told The Cyprus Weekly, “We don’t want to talk about far-off destinations just yet. If they don’t materialise, then it won’t look good in the eyes of our future flyers.”
So who are these new birds and what are they offering?
The build-up to Cobalt’s launch has been the most dazzling and locals have been wowed by some of their big aspirations.
Going by their plan of action, as of June, Cobalt will be flying from Larnaca to Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Chania, London, Manchester, East Midlands, Glasgow, Cardiff, Dublin, Paris, Beirut, Tel Aviv and Tehran, with more destinations to be added by October 2016.
The company aims to be low-budget but with high priority on safety and customer service, according to Cobalt Chairman Gregory Diacou.
“Cobalt is a company which will be working from our Cyprus, for our Cyprus. This will be our contribution to the Cypriot economy,” said Diacou.
A significant number of Cobalt employees are highly skilled and trained Cyprus Airways former employees. There are just under 200 people currently working at Cobalt.
Next year, long-haul flights on Airbus A330 aircraft will extend the airline’s network directly connecting Cyprus with destinations in China, India, South Africa and North America.
The airline has already organised a training day for its newly-recruited cabin crew staff ahead of its launch.
All quiet Orion
Then there is that dark horse, Orion Airways.
Little is known about Orion other that they have an office up-and-running with polite staff members tentative over giving too much away pre-launch.
They have already leased their first Boeing 737 and have all but clinched the necessary permits from the Cyprus Civil Aviation Authority.
Flights to London, Athens and the Middle East have been unofficially confirmed and the company is currently recruiting staff ahead of take-off and has its eye on the local labour market. It is estimated that in the next quarter, 150 new jobs will be created when Orion takes to the skies.
Cyprus’ Orion, however, has nothing to do with the British airliner that flew out of the East Midlands between 1979 and 1989 so bad luck to those hoping to hop off the plane and head straight over to Burton-upon-Trent this summer.
Some English-Cypriots may fail to find the funny side to Russian airline tycoon Vladislav Filev’s choice of name for his new Cypriot airline venture.
“In England they called Cypriots ‘Charlie’ and the company will be named Charlie Airlines,” cackled Filev during an interview earlier this year.
But for all the gloating that many repatriated ‘Charlies’ may have to grin and bear whilst boarding, Filev would have at least been credited with keeping a name that isn’t in tangent with Cyprus’ name. Cobalt, Orion and TUS sound more like something that may be streamlined next year by Hyundai, making Charlie at least a bit tongue-in-cheek Cypriot.
His grand design for Cyprus includes hauling over some of his planes from his S7 fleet, adding that Russian shareholders “will own about 40% in the new company” and that “60% will be held by foreign investors” but stopped short of saying who they were.
Flights are expected to start sometime later this year and although destinations to Europe are all but a given, Russian lips remain sealed over definitive destinations. But it would hardly be earth-shattering news if Charlie begins flying direct to Russia.
Size doesn’t matter
And then there is TUS whose fleet maybe overshadowed in size by its competitors but it can at least boast the fact that it became the first Cypriot airliner to take to the skies following the collapse of Cyprus Airways.
Operations got under way last month with small haul flights to Israel and Greece and the low-key business has been going well for them.
Oh, and did you know that TUS stands for ‘The Ultimate Schedule’?
But the launch wasn’t without its fair share of turbulence. The company had been forced to abort its first flight on Valentine’s Day after the Civil Aviation pulled the handbrakes when the new company managers walked out over a dispute with their employers.
Broken hearts were soon mended when TUS finally took off on March 24 to Ben Gurion Airport in what was essentially a historic day for Cypriot aviation.
So buckle up. It’s going to be an interesting ride this year.
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