As Cyprus emerges from a deep financial crisis, a new low-cost airline, Cobalt Air, is set to launch on July 7 to tap into the island’s resurgent tourism market.
The country has been without a national carrier since the collapse of Cyprus Airways, the victim of a credit crunch that brought the country close to bankruptcy in 2013.
But numbers of visitors to the island’s popular beach resorts soared in 2015, prompting optimism for the vital sector’s prospects.
Andrew Pyne, CEO at Cobalt, wants to turn the island’s main airport, Larnaka, into a regional hub serving Europe and the Middle East.
“We want to be the new national airline of Cyprus,” he told AFP.
“We are betting on Cyprus because we see the potential for the island to be so much bigger a destination than it currently is.”
Cobalt, a collaboration between local and Chinese investors, plans to run a modest fleet of five planes by the end of summer, and double that by 2017.
It will start operations by flying in visitors from eight destinations in the UK, Ireland and Greece. Further down the line it plans to open routes to Tel Aviv, Tehran and further into Asia.
The new carrier has 150 staff – many of them former Cyprus Airways employees.
Cyprus welcomed 2.65 million tourists in 2015, the highest figure in 14 years.
May this year saw more visitors than ever before — with particularly high numbers from the UK and Russia – and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation predicts 2016 will see record numbers.
It is seen as a safe destination compared to other traditional holiday hotspots in the region, such as Egypt and Turkey, where political unrest and attacks on tourist targets have hit the industry hard.
Cyprus has also been spared the migration crisis that has affected many popular destinations across the Greek islands.
Pyne, who started his career at British Airways and has headed up budget airlines in Russia and Macau, was upbeat about the sector’s potential.
“We have antiquities here, we have forests, mountains, skiing in winter,” he outlined to AFP.
“People come to Cyprus for the beaches, for the sea and for the sunshine, but we want to make it multi-faceted. We don’t want to be focusing only on that market.”