CY could collapse by April
22 February 2011 12:29
Author: Jacqueline Agathocleous
CYPRUS Airways (CY) could shut down by April at the latest, if parliament fails to approve the €20 million earmarked as compensation from Turkey’s ban on its airspace, Finance Minister Charilaos Stavrakis warned yesterday.
But the news was even bleaker. Even if the funds were approved, said the minister, there were no guarantees that CY had a future, with negative ramifications for the economy in general and CY’s some thousand employees in particular.
“There are no guarantees or certainty that these millions will solve the problems forever,” said Stavrakis, after the House Finance Committee examined the government’s request to release the funds in a closed meeting. “Outside factors are unpredictable and there are serious concerns that the airline’s future is doubtful. But weighing the very negative consequences its closure will have on the economy, we need to try and keep it afloat.”
Another problem to add to the airline’s woes is uncertainty over whether the European Commission will allow the €20 million to be given even if parliament votes in favour. EU member states are banned from offering reinforcements to public or private companies, unless the EU has given permission.
The fact that the government has not formally applied to EU was strongly criticised by House committee members.
Stavrakis said Turkey banning Cypriot flights from its airspace created a serious distortion in CY’s competitiveness. “The government wants to compensate the airline for this injustice,” he said. “We have sent a pre-warning to the EU about our intentions, but I feel that we don’t have any choice but to offer these funds. If we don’t give this money, the airline will close by April, the latest.”
The minister added that if parliament approves the funds, the money will be given to CY straight away.
“For now, the aim is to save the company, which is in immediate danger of collapse,” said Stavrakis.
Comparisons were inevitably drawn between Stavrakis’ stance yesterday and the statements he made exactly a year ago, when he was trying to convince parliament to release €35 million to save state-owned airline Eurocypria from going bankrupt.
The only difference was that last February, the minister had ensured MPs that Eurocypria had a viable future - which in the end proved not to be the case. The airline started controlled bankruptcy procedures last November.
The minister was also criticised by Committee Chairman, DIKO’s Nicolas Papadopoulos, and DISY’s Averoff Neophytou for not being more careful with his statements.
“As this was such a serious and sensitive matter, the majority of the committee’s members had decided that the meeting should be carried out in a closed session,” said Papadopoulos. “For this reason, I am surprised to hear what the minister said; not only did he set a timeframe for CY closing down, he admitted that no one can confirm it has a future.”
He added: “The last time the minister told the finance committee that CY could close in six months if measures weren’t taken, the airline’s creditors stopped funds as they knew the future was doubtful, causing massive problems to the already-ailing company. I hope these statements don’t lead to the same scenario.”
Neophytou agreed: “I was expecting the Finance Minister to be more reserved and careful in his statements.”
He added that he would only make one statement on the matter. “At the same time last year, we were discussing Eurocypria. I compare what the minister said last year for Eurocypria and what he says today for CY.
“Last year he said: ‘Give me €35 million and I assure you that Eurocypria will become a profit-making company and I will secure the 300 workers’ jobs.’ This year, a year later, the same minister of the same government is saying give the €20 million to save CY but he can’t ensure its viability - make you own conclusions.”
Meanwhile, the CY management and board of directors presented the committee with the company’s 28 proposals on how to save the company - on top of the government’s rescue plan that was signed last week by the management and unions, which provides among others a 10 per cent pay cut for all CY workers.
“Matters are very, very serious - especially considering what happened with Eurocypria,” said Papadopoulos.
He said the committee was sceptical about releasing the millions, if the company’s future couldn’t be confirmed.
“We were given a written memo on the company’s proposed measures and there seem to be some omissions on how they plan to save funds,” said Papadopoulos. “We will examine them at a party level and announce our conclusions then. In the meantime, I think it is everyone’s common intention to create prospects for the company, as a thousand workers are in danger of being left on the streets by April and Cyprus without a state airline, with all the catastrophic consequences that this will bring.”
So far, only AKEL has said it will vote in favour of the €20 million being released.