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Ten airlines are ready to step in and fill the void created by the long-overdue demise of Cyprus Airways, after the national carrier shut down at midnight on Friday when its final flight returned home to Larnaca from Athens.
Already, Greek operator Aegean Airlines said on Tuesday that it is setting up a regional hub with a fleet of four Airbus A320s, up from just one at present, and also leaves open the prospect of enhancing its presence on the island.
The European Competition Commission ruled on Friday that more than EUR 100 mln received from the government in the form of subsidies and guarantees since 2007, violated state aid regulations and had to return at least EUR 66 mln to the taxpayer, a task deemed financially impossible.
As a result, the 96%-state owned carrier was forced to shut down and its dwindling market share of 10% now up for grabs by more efficient and competitive airlines.
Dogged by decades of poor management and rising payrolls, the airline was obliged to sell off its assets and stay afloat, reducing its fleet to just six aircraft and only nine routes, but still maintaining a disproportionate staff of 560.
Aegean’s Vice Chairman Eftychios Vasilakis said in Nicosia on Tuesday that the aim is for the airline to double its market share out of Cyprus from the present 6.5-7% to 14%, as it will carry 1.5 mln passengers on 14 routes. The summer schedule, starting in April, will see more flights to Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as Paphos-Athens route and direct flights to Heraklion (Crete) and Rhodes. In July and August it will also operate to Mykonos and Santorini, raising daily operations between Cyprus and Greece to nine.
According to ANT1 TV, Aegean and Romania’s low-cost Blue Air are keen to pick up Cyprus Airways’ traffic to and from Athens, Aegean and European budget operator Ryanair want the Thessaloniki and Heraklion routes, British Airways is ready to take over the London traffic, Air France-KLM and Austrian Airlines want the Amsterdam route, Israel’s El Al and Arkia both are vying for Tel Aviv, and Aegean wants the Moscow route.
The Greek carrier, that together with Ryanair, were the only two that expressed some interest to take over Cyprus Airways in the government’s privatisation effort last year, announced that it will launch its Larnaca-Tel Aviv daily schedule in March on