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Rebuilding Cyprus airports February 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus News, Transport Air Sea Land.

The man responsible for bringing the Cyprus airports into the modern world puts in a 12-hour day but sometimes struggles with the laid-back Mediterranean approach

We all know what a typical landing is like when you arrive in Cyprus and this flight from Heathrow was no different. Some people clapped their hands, relieved to finally be back on dry land, as older ladies dressed in black began crossing themselves in thanks for God protecting them from turbulence.

‘Zorba the Greek’ started playing on the speakers, as seatbelts were unbuckled and passengers stood up despite the friendly protestations of the airhostess. Mobiles began ringing and a few people placed cigarettes behind their ears, waiting to light up as soon as they reached the ‘strictly’ non-smoking terminal. Home sweet home.

It was your usual plane experience until a couple of tourists sitting behind me chuckled loudly once the aircraft reached a halt. They seemed to find it hilarious that the runway had patches of earth beside it speckled with wild weeds. “You wouldn’t find that in many places,” one of the young men remarked as the other laughed and said, “you can’t expect much more from such a tiny island can you?” I cringed but couldn’t help listening to the rest of their conversation as a discussion followed about how amusing it was that the airport looked so small and yes (shock, horror) how disgraceful it was that you have to get on a bus to take you to the terminal building. If the mere sight of the airport made them so distressed, then how would they cope once they got into a taxi and hit the roads?

These memories came back when I was handed a big, white envelope and told to have a look at some new airport designs. I’m greeted by what, to the untrained eye, looked like a new Heathrow airport terminal, boasting long walkways and boarding bridges, where contemporary architecture is complemented by a cutting-edge concrete, steel and glass design.

But there was something awfully telling that this definitely wasn’t Heathrow as the blue sea glistened in the background. These were the plans for the much-anticipated new Larnaca and Paphos airports that should ensure that no more tourists complain about our seemingly ‘third world’ facilities. But how easy is it to convert a rather small and humble airport into one that looks like it could be part of a glamorous movie set?

The man that hands me the envelope is Bob Manning. As Chief Executive Officer of Hermes airports, Manning is the man in charge of transforming both airports over the next few years. Calling himself an “Australian through and through”, his management experience commenced as an officer in the Australian Army and was followed by CEO positions in Municipal Government and Cairns Port Authority. He’s since had extensive experience in airports, seaports and the tourism industry, acting as the man in charge of major construction works.

All plans are already in action for our airports and it’s expected that by 2009 they’ll look extremely different. The Larnaca terminal will be a three-level building served by 16 passenger boarding bridges. The capacity for the first works is 7.5 million passengers per year. The Paphos terminal will be a one-level structure with a capacity for 2.7 million passengers per year. As we chat, the sixth construction crane is erected on sight and Manning tells me that 115 million euros have already been spent on the works.

It’s certainly no small task and Manning says these new terminal buildings will be the most important ‘investments’ in the history of Cyprus. His no nonsense approach shows that getting something done today means getting something done today, rather than the tomorrow that never comes. And yes, starting a job at 9am means starting at 9am, not at 11am after morning banter, two frappes, a few cigarettes and endless gossip about the neighbours. His alarm is permanently set at 5.30am with no exception and he sets off for work at Larnaca airport, where he spends most of his time. “On arrival at the office, my first task is to switch on my laptop and ‘hope’ that not too many emails have come that evening. My first hour is spent with my personal assistant, Helen, who pretty much organises my day,” says Manning.

“I don’t find it hard to work around Cypriots, but work habits and patterns here are different to what they are in Australia. I’m not criticising, but it’s obvious that people are a lot more laid back when it comes to getting certain things done. It’s just the whole Mediterranean way that’s different, where deadlines seem to extend a little, and things seem to wind down after lunch. That’s been hard to adapt to.”

He hopes to bring us up to ‘world standard’ and as we talk I realise just how committed he is to getting things up to scratch. “The airports at Larnaca and Paphos are totally inadequate for Cyprus in 2007. Tourism and air links are critical to the future of the island and the current airport infrastructure can only serve to hold back development and growth in these two key sectors. To do nothing is not an option,” he says firmly.

But it’s not all work and no play for Manning who explains that travelling is a big part of his routine. His move to Cyprus in November 2005 inevitably meant missing the folks back home but his wife joined him at the start of 2006. “We miss our children terribly but, on the upside, we’re able to travel to Australia quite easily from here. Distance isn’t an issue. When you’ve lived in Australia you get used to travelling long distances.”

From leaving home in the morning to returning home in the evening it’s a 12-hour day. “I don’t find the job tiring but I do find it challenging. That’s not to say that I don’t get tired, and come each Friday afternoon I very much welcome the approach of the weekend,” he admits. “When I get home I like to relax with my wife by having a drink before the evening meal, read personal emails that have come in during the day, and catch up on current affairs and sport on TV.”

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