* Budget airline squeezes Cyprus Airways, Aegean welcomes challenge *
Budget airline Ryanair is pushing its way into the highly lucrative Athens route by launching a new daily flight in April from Paphos (PFO) to Eleftherios Venizelos (ATH) with an introductory offer of just 12 euros each way.
However, the launch-fare has sold out on Wednesday with the company’s website posting single tickets from 22 euros up to 50 euros each way, as the dates get closer to the busy Easter break.
Ryanair’s entry into the Athens market is expected to cause an additional headache to troubled Cyprus Airways that, although flying out of Larnaca, will see its market share erode further, but will hopefully result in lower fares to the Greek capital.
The Dublin-based carrier had so far only operated from Paphos to Patras, a route it plans to maintain for this summer, but the new Athens flight will be monitored throughout summer after which Ryanair will decide whether to increase the frequency to the Greek capital, a company official said.
The Irish low cost company carried about 500,000 passengers to and from Paphos last year, with the most popular destinations both inbound and outbound being Manchester, London Stansted and Stockholm, spokesperson Maria Macken told the Financial Mirror.
“The new special fare of 12 euros on www.ryanair.com is for bookings to next Wednesday, January 22 and for flights from April 1 to May 31, excluding the Easter holidays,” Macken said, adding that with an average load factor of 83% on its 189-seat aircraft, the PFO-ATH route could generate about 42,000 passenger seats this year. The flight departs from Athens at 12.10 and returns from Paphos at 14.10.
Macken was not available for comment as regards the allocation of 12-euro fares and how well the airline had sold on the first day of the offer.
The new route marks Ryanair’s breakthrough to use Eleftherios Venizelos as a new base, also introducing flights from Stansted to the Greek capital for just GBP 24.99 each way.
The airline will continue to operate the Paphos-Stansted direct flight six times a week, as well as flights to Thessaloniki (11 weekly), Hania (5 weekly), Patra (3 weekly), Manchester (2 weekly), Brussels Charleroi (2 weekly) and Krakow (2 weekly), and the weekly schedules to Kaunas and Stockholm.
Ryanair also announced customer service upgrades with allocated seating, a small, second carry-on bag, an easier website booking platform and quiet flights before 8am and after 9pm. The company said that its second base in Athens is part of a 200 mln euro investment in Greece, while it will also be investing some 50 mln euros in Thessaloniki.
Aegean Airlines http://en.aegeanair.com/ , that used to operate a Paphos to Athens route which was terminated, but will introduce a Paphos-Kiev flight via Athens in summer, welcomed the challenge from Ryanair.
“The announcement for the establishment of new bases in Athens and Thessaloniki confirms that this is an openly competitive market within the European aviation industry, something that we have always contended,” Aegean said in an announcement.
“This is, after all, the reason that the merger of the two Greek airlines, Aegean and Olympic Air, was necessary in order to create the economies of scale which allow us to compete on an equal basis with other airlines and in other markets.”
Aegean announced a 30% discount on all its international routes for booking until next week and flights to the end of June.
Meanwhile, in its struggle to remain competitive, Cyprus Airways http://cyprusair.com/ announced last week that it was selling one of its two slots at London’s Heathrow to Qatar Airways for $20 mln (15 mln euros) and was considering alternative destinations from Larnaca to Stansted, Gatwick and Luton.
The deal eventually fell through on Wednesday and Qatar is now considering buying a slot from another operator at Heathrow as intermediaries blamed the leaks from the airline’s management into the local press as grounds for cancellation of the deal.
The Cypriot national carrier’s chairman Tony Antoniou said on Thursday that another airline is still interested to bid for the Heathrow slot and that the cabinet is expected to appoint the negotiating team that will handle the talks with strategic investors.
He also announced that the island’s two major tour operators, Top Kinisis and Xenos Travel/Royal Holidays, had concluded a deal to operate 64 charter flights to Greece and other European holiday destinations this summer using Cyprus Airways. Both Top Kinisis and Xenos/Royal also cooperate with Ryanair.
Transport Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said last week that there were six, seven or possibly more strategic investors interested in Cyprus Airways. He added that these are mostly joint ventures, investors and airline companies from the Middle East, Russia and China.
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