Best of both worlds

Ideally situated as a destination, gateway and hub for travel between Europe and the Middle East, the island of Cyprus is no stranger when it comes to the world of flight. Surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, it relies upon the aviation sector for its lucrative tourism industry, and recent figures show that its air travel market continues to grow at a commanding pace, with a total of 9.3 million travellers expected to use its airports at Larnaca and Paphos in 2017.

Up until January 2015, the flag carrier airline of Cyprus was Cyprus Airways. Having been in operation since 1947, the airline’s well documented closure left a sizeable gap in the market upon which to capitalise, one that was seized upon by a group of business men and women from the island and the UK, backed by Chinese investors, who would go on to form Cobalt Air (Cobalt).

“Being an economically stable European country, covered by EU regulations, and with access to all of the traffic rights and open skies across the continent, it was easy for us to identify Cyprus as being a great place to establish a new international airline,” begins Cobalt’s Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Madar. “Having received our operations certificate and operating licence, in May 2016 and June 2016 respectively, we formally commenced activities on 7th July 2016.”

Cobalt’s operations began with the leasing of a single aircraft, flying to a total of four destinations. In less than one year it had grown to the point where it operated an Airbus fleet of six aircraft from the A320 family of single-aisle jetliners. Today, this fleet navigates a route structure that includes 16 destinations across Europe and the Middle East. In its bid to establish Cyprus as a hub linking these two geographic regions, as well as economies in Africa and Asia, the company has also managed to secure traffic rights to strategic locations such as Dubai, Amman, Cairo, Beirut and Tel Aviv.

“Most recently, we have successfully opened up our three newest routes, to Frankfurt, London Gatwick and Moscow, while we anticipate commencing with flights to Abu Dhabi within the next few weeks,” Andrew says. “As we speak, we are also posting our core summer 2018 schedule, which features several exciting new destinations that we believe will prove extremely popular.”

One of the secrets to Cobalt’s rapid success is the way it has worked to redefine the low-cost travel sector by combining the price flexibility and cost advantages of the low-cost carrier business model with a high-tech in-flight service delivery, to create a ‘hybrid’ product offering. “While we do apply many low-cost principles to the operational side of the business, we focus a great deal of our attention on delivering optimum quality to our customers in areas such as airport check-in, customer handling and in-flight service,” Andrew explains. “This extends to things like the recent addition of a full-blown business class product across our fleet.

“What we have found is that, in this part of Europe where we can find ourselves in direct competition with carriers from the Middle East and Gulf countries, the taste of our customers is noticeably different to that of those who typical utilise traditional low-cost operations in western Europe. Our customers have certain expectations and needs that other carriers struggle to meet, so we have tailored our service to achieve this. It is also a trend that we see slowly developing in places such as France and Germany as their economies rebound, which bodes well for the future demand of our hybrid offering.”

The latest figures available to Andrew suggest that the tourism sector in Cyprus has grown by 23 per cent year-on-year in 2017, following 18 per cent growth in 2016.Andrew knows first-hand that such numbers are not exaggerated as his company alone has seen passenger traffic sky rocket by some 400 per cent in that time, with this showing no sign of retreating as we enter 2018. As a result of this, Cobalt finds itself already selling out its existing capacity for next summer, and therefore discussions are advancing as to how to capitalise on this demand.

“We are currently in the midst of internal discussions as to how we can increase capacity, while also looking to further advance into offering long-haul services,” Andrew reveals. “In the short-term, we will look to expand our short-haul services with the addition of further Airbus A320 aircraft, before then venturing into the long-haul market, flying to carefully selected destinations, later in 2018. At the same time, and as a means of also addressing the seasonality of the Cypriot market, we are also working towards establishing connecting flight networks at key locations both inside and outside of our region.”

Realising that, for carriers of Cobalt’s kind, fleet growth is a by-product of market conditions, Andrew and his team have set their collective sights on achieving controlled network and market growth in the years ahead. “By utilising our geographic proximity to some of the world’s fastest growing regions, as well as our specialist service offering, we believe we are well placed to compete with the vast majority of the core European operators,” he concludes. “If I was to look ahead, I can definitely see us, in three-to-five years’ time, existing as a very strong small-to-medium-sized airline, flying around 15 or more aircraft on short-haul trips around Europe and the Middle East, as well long-haul to China, South Africa and even the United States.”

Cobalt Air
Based at Larnaca International Airport
Operates a fleet of six Airbus A319 and A320’s
400 per cent growth in passenger numbers since its inception