ECONOMY

Cypriot air monopolies

Cypriot skies may well be clouded by new monopolies, as the demise of Helios Airways has deprived Cypriots and visitors to the island of the only alternative for scheduled flights, says the founder of the airline, Andreas Christodoulidis. He started it in 1998, running it until 2004, when it was sold to its current owner, the Libra travel group. Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition, he also made no secret of his disappointment over the company’s conversion to a charter airline, under the name «ajet.» «We managed to bring fares down, open new routes, access additional airports and eventually help Cypriot tourism, which had been our original goal,» Christodoulidis says. Helios had launched services such as Larnaca-Dublin and Larnaca-Bucharest, but its coup had been the successful use of its London Luton slot. «Now all our labor is lost. All our investment in money and effort, everything Helios had done for tourism, for the travel agents and for passengers is gone,» says an embittered Christodoulidis, who considers Helios his brainchild. He concedes that «now everyone associates Helios only with the accident,» referring the crash of the company’s Boeing 737-300 last August near Grammatiko, which killed all 121 people on board. Libra has stressed that the change of name and nature of the company, still pending official approval, had been decided before the accident. The group suggested that as a tour operator it would prefer a charter-type airline. Christodoulidis agrees with that, saying that ajet now is just another charter airline, having stopped most of its previous services. The renaming of the company has drawn heavy criticism in Cyprus, particularly from the families of the victims, who have accused the airline of trying to shake off its responsibilities. Could its owners have done anything else then in order to save the airline after the accident? «No,» Christodoulidis answers. «The owners of Helios did everything they could have done after the accident,» he says. «There is nothing else I would have done.» He is also reserved about the carrier’s future. «Ajet may yet grow and boost tourism in Cyprus, but the loss of scheduled flights is considerable. Passengers want to have alternative solutions for trips to and from Cyprus,» he says. The Helios service between Athens and Larnaca was discontinued immediately after the crash, but Greek private carrier Aegean Airlines has successfully provided an alternative to national flag carriers Olympic Airlines and Cyprus Airways that serve this route. Nevertheless, there are some plans by airlines to set up their hub at Larnaca airport, with a source suggesting that one of them, «New Limits,» is planning flights to several Greek regional airports – including Kavala, Patra and Ioannina – with two Avro Jet aircraft of 110 seats. Christodoulidis, however, is not optimistic – at least now. «Cypriot people do not trust private airlines after the accident,» he says, adding that he personally new everyone in the ill-fated plane’s crew and felt for the victims’ families. «They are highly skeptical after last August’s shock, and it will not be easy for any other airline on the island.» He sees more potential in the Greek market, particularly in regional airports such as Corfu, which could serve as a hub for smaller airlines.