Cyprus & World News

Cyprus Airways sells Heathrow slot to MEA “dirt cheap”

13 March, 2014

Cyprus Airways, the troubled national carrier that has been undergoing endless restructuring plans over the past decades, is selling its night slot at London’s Heathrow Airport to Lebanese carrier MEA, for a mere 6.3 mln euros, a far cry from the 15 mln it was hoping to get from Qatar Airways two months ago.

This leaves CAIR with a single morning flight from Larnaca at 10am local that departs the British capital’s busy airport at 14:25 for an early-afternoon arrival back home.
On the other hand, Middle East Airlines will be doubling its business to London from April 17, operating an Airbus A320 that will depart Beirut at 17:30 local and arrive into Heathrow at 20:35, identical to the times of the CAIR flights. The outbound journey will leave London at 22:00 just before the airport closes because of noise levels and arrive in Beirut at 04:35.
The service will offer the SkyTeam alliance member connections with Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, Kuwait, Amman, Cairo, Baghdad, Najaf and Basrah. In its heyday, Cyprus Airways used to operate a lucrative London-Larnaca route that would feed passenger traffic to the Lebanese capital.
The influential pilots’ union and Cyprus-specialist tour operators have said that selling off the Heathrow slot was depriving the airline of urgently needed revenues and tourist traffic to the island, while condemning the closing down of the London sales office that will be replaced by a small unit within Heathrow airport.
The unions have opposed chairman Tony Antoniou’s plans to downsize the airline by closing down routes, shutting offices and selling off assets, saying that London’s Heathrow business has not been properly utilised.
However, the bankrupt carrier’s chairman is facing mounting debts, highly-paid and unproductive ground and air crews, and a plethora of unnecessary costs that have been piled up by subsequent managements and senior officials appointed by government and political parties.
Antoniou recently said that another option would be to increase flights to London’s alternative Gatwick airport, while boosting the other UK routes popular with British tourists, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Stansted and Luton.
An offer for Qatar Airways to buy one of the two CAIR slot at Heathrow airport for EUR 15 mln fell through after details of the deal were unveiled by Cypriot government officials and the Gulf carrier turned to other potential sellers at Europe’s busiest airport. Such a deal would have helped lower Cyprus Airway’s mounting debts and growing costs, which have forced it to cut back on its fleet, staff size and overseas offices.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways said it will launch four weekly flights from Doha to Larnaca as of April 29, following the conclusion of an aviation transport agreement signed on Sunday by outgoing Communications Minister Tassos Mitsopoulos who take up the Defence Ministry on Friday.
The ‘open skies’ agreement allows for the use of ‘fifth rights’ as regards carrying passengers from Cyprus onwards to any two other EU destinations (except Greece) by Qatar Airways, similar to flights operated by Emirates from Dubai to Larnaca and then onwards to Malta.
Qatar Airways had already been advertising for all positions to man the ground crew of the airline at Larnaca airport, from check-in counters all the way up to managers.
During the meetings in Doha, it was also agreed that Qatar Airways and Cyprus Airways would conclude a code-share agreement within 30 days, which is regarded as the first step in further commercial cooperation at a critical time for the island’s troubled national carrier.