Cyprus Airways is seeking to develop routes to the Indian subcontinent as part of a strategy to meet the challenges which will accompanying deregulation when the island joins the European Union in May 2004, writes Gerald Butt.

The national carrier, which lost around $34 million during the first six months of this year, will inaugurate a twice-weekly Larnaca-Colombo service (via Dubai, with passenger rights on all legs) on 18 November. It has also held talks with Air India on a possible Mumbai service and is considering other destinations in the region.

"Europe will always be at the centre of our operations," says Cyprus Airways general manager Christos Kyriakides. "But diversification is important with open skies and increased co-operation on European routes."

One of the major challenges to Cyprus Airways will be the loss of its monopoly (with British Airways) on the lucrative Larnaca-Heathrow route.

But Kyriakides says the airline has taken steps to consolidate its hold on it. Airbus A330s have replaced the former A310s, increasing passenger capacity, and the Cypriot carrier has taken up three slot options to increase its Heathrow service to 16 or 17 flights a week. This, Kyriakides says, "reduces the opportunity for other possible entrants to the marketplace".

Cyprus Airways also hopes to exploit the island's EU membership to offer services from European destinations to the Greek islands, operated by its charter subsidiary Eurocypria, and see its Athens-based associated company, Hellas Jet, expand. At the same time, according to Kyriakides, Cyprus Airways "is in discussion with one of the European alliances and we are hoping to announce something pretty soon".

Source: Flight International