CY is in dire need of leadership

Cyprus Mail, [3 May 2006]

NOTHING seems to be going right at our beleaguered national carrier Cyprus Airways (CY), which seems to attract negative publicity as easily as the police force. A few days after being publicly censured by the House president for failing to reserve him a seat on a flight to Brussels, the airline was again in the news as a result of the leaking of a confidential safety report by a CY captain.

In his report, the captain, who has 25 years' experience, wrote that his aircraft headed for the wrong runway at Heathrow. Air traffic control spotted this on the radar screen and gave the crew the setting for the correct runway.

The captain attributed the mistake to fatigue, which the pilots have been citing as an issue, since the airline scrapped overnight stays in London and forced crews to bring back the plane on the same day. Under this arrangement, with turnaround time at Heathrow included, the pilots have been claiming they were exceeding the maximum flying hours.

In a way the pilots' union PASIPY invited this negative publicity by first drawing attention to safety and arguing that the situation at the company was having an adverse psychological effect on staff. This view was repeated by the air transport Accident and Investigations Board that said, although safety standards were high, they would suffer if management did not proceed speedily with the restructuring plan as the prolonged uncertainty would affect the staff.

It was a statement of the obvious for anyone with a rudimentary understanding of management, but the uncertainty lingers five months after the action plan was submitted to the EU. The board has had an ongoing dispute with PASIPY, while a week ago a strike by cabin crew members was averted at the last minute.

One of the biggest problems at Cyprus Airways, as we have written in the past, is the lack of leadership. Who is the chief executive officer, the person who would lead the company during this make-or-break period? If there is one, he or she is in hiding and therefore totally unsuitable for such a demanding job.

The impression given is that, even at this critical time, all the decisions are being taken by a board which does not have a single member with experience of the air industry. The chairman, Lazaros Savvides, who has taken the role of head honcho, is a very able civil servant but he has next to no experience of running a business, let alone an airline company on the brink of bankruptcy. It is not even a full-time job for him as he is a ministry permanent secretary.

If the airline had leadership — a full-time CEO, hired with the brief of cutting costs and implementing the re-structuring — we would not be reading reports about falling safety standards and strike threats. A competent CEO would have united staff, set targets for them and got them all working for the same goal—to save the company.

That the government thought it could save such a badly run company without hiring an experienced and proven executive, who would provide leadership, give direction and monitor the implementation of the action plan, defies belief.