Cyprus Airways ‘hides’ fleet of planes in Welsh airfield to avoid seizure in row over paying back £51million in illegal state aidPosted: January 13, 2015
Cyprus Airways has reportedly flown its fleet of planes to a remote Welsh airfield in a bid to prevent them being seized over a row about paying back 65 million euros (£51million) in illegal state funding.
The struggling airline flew its Airbus A320s to a ‘secret storage location’ in the UK after completing its last flights on Friday.
But an online tracking website has shown the planes are at St Athan airfield on the outskirts of Cardiff.
The move follows a European Commission ruling demanding the airline pay back the state aid it received.
Aviation expert Julian Bray said: ‘The aircraft if allowed to continue operation, possibly landing at commercial airports could be seized by court officers acting on behalf of creditors. That is why they have been flown to the UK.’
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Cyprus Airways had no chance of becoming viable without continued state subsidies, which means money paid out in 2012 and 2013 as part of a restructuring package would have to be recovered.
The restructuring plan was ‘based on unrealistic assumptions’ the EU Commission claimed.
He said the state would fully cover the cost of alternative flights for passengers who had already booked with the airline.
Cyprus Airways is 93 per cent owned by the state and employs 550 people. It has a 10 per cent share of flights to the island, down from 30 per cent two years ago.
Workers demonstrated against the ruling outside the Finance Ministry in Cyprus after the airline suspended its operations
St Athan airfield is owned by the Ministry of Defence and was once the UK’s largest Royal Air Force station.
In December, the RAF was due to hand over operational control of the airfield to private contractors Serco in a move towards converting St Athan into a civilian airfield by 2019.
Situated less than three miles from Cardiff Airport it has a variety of hangar facilities and forms part of the St-Athan-Cardiff Enterprise Zone, offering an aerospace base for companies and airlines to use.
Ryanair, which announced dozens of new routes within hours of the collapse of Hungary’s Malev in 2012, said in a statement that it was temporarily cutting prices to the Mediterranean island to help stranded passengers.
The airfield at St Athan, on the outskirts of Cardiff, is reportedly where the planes are being stored
But Ryanair has relatively little spare capacity due to expansion planned for the summer. Quickly covering the flights would also be complicated by the fact that about a third of Cyprus Airways’ destinations are outside of the European Union and its routes are longer than Ryanair’s average.
The demise of the carrier is another blow to Cyprus, which was subjected to harsh bailout conditions in 2013 when it was saved from the brink of bankruptcy by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EU.
A small number of demonstrators gathered outside Cyprus Airways’ Nicosia offices on Friday evening, but the reaction from staff was muted.
‘It’s pretty clear from the decision that the government didn’t put a viable restructuring plan in place. Our union clearly says that was deliberate; you can turn any company around,’ said Petros Souppouris, head of the carrier’s pilots union.
Both Ryanair and Greece’s Aegean Airlines, have submitted applications to Cypriot authorities to create subsidiaries on the island.