Once the hype from the launch of the island’s newest low-cost carrier had died down, some of the teething problems started to surface at Cobalt, forcing a management change within a month and a need to redesign the airline’s strategy.
New CEO Andrew Madar took over tasked with finding quick-fix solutions for the problem created from the lack of a sufficient fleet.
But with nearly three decades’ of experience behind him with the likes of Boeing and GE, Madar is confident that by the end of September, when the winter 2016/17 schedule will be announced, will be back on its feet, having overcome delays and sales problems.
He is even sure that with the right cooperation between the airline, the airports operator and hoteliers, Cobalt could be at the forefront of attracting tourists from faraway China, once its long-haul flights have been finalised.
“We’ve already sold 77,000 tickets so far and with the good impression that passengers flying with us have had, we will be building up our customer base,” Madar said in an interview.
Cobalt operates an Airbus
fleet of A319s and A320s and the airline aims to have six aircraft in operation by Spring 2017 in time for the next summer season.
The previous management did not secure the arrival of aircraft in time, which was to see it grow from a single aircraft at launch to a fleet of five by the end of August. This was also why the shareholders demanded accountability, as a result of which launch CEO Andrew Pyne left.
The change included
the management team by 10%, which did not affect the total staff size. Already, due to the growing needs, the airline’s 188 personnel is expected to grow to 210 by the end of the year.
“Ever since I took over, and as soon as my friends in the airline industry heard I was in charge, we have received offers for up to a dozen ‘dry’ leases (aircraft only) directly from the companies, and not through brokers,” Madar said.
The initial plan was to operate with four dry leases, boosted by ‘wet’ leases (including flight and cabin crew) during the peak summer months. But this did not materialise, causing a few delays. At present, it operates one dry and two wet leases, with two new aircraft expected by the end of September.
“We will continue with our ticket sales of very low prices, but from now on these will be determined on a ‘hybrid low cost’ basis,” Madar said, adding that the route structure to the UK, Ireland, Greece and France will be boosted by launches to Beirut, Tel Aviv and Tehran.
Having helped develop new business for the manufacturers in China, Madar believes there are three primary reasons why the Chinese would opt to travel to Cyprus for their holidays – location, culture and security.
Once the Foreign Ministry finalises its visa-issue system in China with remote applications, this should make Cyprus just as attractive as Greece, Egypt and Turkey.
“Now that the Chinese have their own passports and are free to travel, a destination like Cyprus, which is also a stepping stone to Europe, is very attractive,” Madar said.
He is not too keen on the investmentsfor-residency scheme, but is confident that tourism will attract record numbers of Chinese to the island. This is why Cobalt is also in communication with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation to coordinate this new venture.
At the same time, Madar, whose background is engineering and management, said that on the technical side, Cobalt is very solid, which is unique for a startup, where often safety is compromised in order to achieve cost efficiencies.
“We have introduced a better model – it’s called lean efficiency that meets safety regulations, can accommodate passenger demands and help reduce delays,” he explained.