Ryanair says it can turn around ailing Cyprus Airways

Ireland’s budget carrier Ryanair on Friday submitted a plan to turn for-sale Cyprus Airways into a profitable operation by increasing passenger traffic by 500 percent over three years, officials said.

Ryanair CEO Michael OLeary said with the help of his low-cost airline, Cyprus Airways will experience rapid growth with new routes and more flights, increasing the number of its passengers to three million per annum from the current average of 500,000.

OLeary on Friday met government officials in Nicosia responsible for finding a strategic investor for the loss-making national carrier.

Communications Minister Marios Demetriades said the government will take a careful look at the Ryanair proposal "to see whether it meets our expectations, and we of course have our own proposals."

The government owns 93 percent of Cyprus Airways.

"From Ryanair’s point of view there is a very exciting future for Cyprus Airways where I believe with the help of Ryanair we could put Cyprus Airways and Cyprus tourism back on a path of a very much renewed and rapid growth," OLeary told reporters.

He said under the proposal submitted to Nicosia, Ryanair expects Cyprus Airways to grow from 500,000 passengers last year to around three million passengers over the next three to four years.

"We think we can deliver that growth using Cyprus Airways. So it will be Cyprus Airways growing again from 700,000 passengers this year to three million in the next few years," OLeary said.

Greeces Aegean Airlines and Ryanair are among 15 suitors still interested in Cyprus Airways.

Others that have reportedly expressed an interest include Israel-based Arkia, Romanias low-budget Blue Air, Lebanon’s MEA and Spanish Group Arevenca in collaboration with Fly Aruba.

Airline chairman Tony Antoniou said on Friday investors interested in submitting proposals for Cyprus Airways have until the end of August to do so.

He said a shortlist of those submitting non-binding proposals will be drawn up at the end of September.

The east Mediterranean island’s national carrier has been selling off assets, including three time slots at London’s Heathrow airport, so it can keep flying.

With a reduced fleet of six aircraft, the airline is struggling to survive against intense competition on its most popular routes to Greece and London.

It has implemented several cost-cutting plans, axing staff, scrapping routes and downsizing its fleet, but has failed to stem losses.

It is also under investigation from the European Commission over possible violations of state aid rules in a 31-million-euro share capital increase and a 73-million-euro state bailout over the past two years.

The airline posted a net loss of 55.8 million euros for 2012, more than double the net loss of 23.88 million a year earlier. [AFP]