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Anxious to improve visitors’ first impressions December 22, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.

Until the turn of the 21st century, the idea of building a showpiece airport at Larnaca, the main gateway for tourist arrivals, would have seemed to many Greek Cypriots an unnecessary extravagance. Thrift was a watchword for a generation who rebuilt the economy after the 1974 Turkish invasion. It was not until the late 1990s that government ministries moved out of cramped colonial-era accommodation into new buildings designed to suit the requirements of a future European Union member-state.

The continuing use of makeshift facilities at Larnaca and Paphos, the second international airport in the south, also reflected a belief that, in the not too distant future, Nicosia international airport, which straddles the ceasefire line dividing the island, would be re-opened. After the invasion, the abandoned airport became the headquarters for United Nations personnel. When representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities meet under UN auspices, the talks are held in a refurbished passenger terminal dating from the 1960s.

As prospects for reconciliation with the Turkish Cypriot community have faded, Greek Cypriot attitudes have changed. The government is promoting infrastructure improvements to meet the needs of the Republic in the south. But the finance ministry still keeps a tight rein on public investment. The €650m upgrade of Larnaca and Paphos airports launched earlier this year is Cyprus’s first build-operate-transfer (BOT) project. Hermes Airports, a French-led group, won an international tender to build new passenger terminals and extend the runways at both airports under a 25-year concession.

Gleaming new airports are an essential part of the south’s strategy to upgrade the tourism sector by 2010. At present, almost 6m passengers a year use facilities at Larnaca that were designed to handle 1.5m. Pressure on the terminal becomes most intense in July and August when charters out-number scheduled flights by a wide margin and turn-around times are tight.

“The international airport sends a huge message, especially on a tourist island such as Cyprus. People make instant judgments about the quality of the destination by the look and feel of the airport and the way that it’s run,” says Bob Manning, chief executive of Hermes.

Two French infrastructure specialists, Bouygues Batiment International and Egis Projects, each have a 20 per cent stake in Hermes. Cyprus Trading Corporation, the island’s leading retailer, Iacovou Brothers, a local contractor, and Hellenic Mining, a Greek Cypriot company, are the main local shareholders, each with a 10 per cent stake. Charilaos Apostolides, another Nicosia-based construction company, has 5 per cent. Vancouver Airport Services and Ireland’s Air Rainta International also have 10 per cent each, while Aeroport Nice, in partnership with the Cote d’Azur Chamber of Commerce, has 3 per cent. The project is being fully financed through commercial loans, arranged by a group of international banks led by Société Générale, ING, West LB and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The smaller terminal at Paphos is set to open in November 2008, followed by Larnaca a year later. The Paphos terminal, used by 1.8m passengers last year, will cater for 2.7m passengers annually. The first construction phase at Larnaca will serve 7.5m passengers a year. A second phase, due to be completed in 2013, provides for the expansion of the terminal to cater for an extra 1.5m passengers a year, and for a 500m runway extension.

The design for the new 98,000 square-metre Larnaca terminal, with 16 boarding bridges, is intended to reflect the proportions of a medieval aqueduct near the airport site. The Paphos terminal is a simpler building of 20,000 square metres, with aircraft parking slots on an enlarged apron.

While Cyprus is not expected to become an important airline hub, an upgraded Larnaca would have a good chance of attracting more business from UK-based, east European and Middle Eastern carriers.”There’s already a big spread of airlines, from most of European and some of the Middle East, using Larnaca. With better facilities, I’m confident we’ll see further diversification,” says Mr Manning.

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