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Cobalt skies

In less than two years since its first commercial flight between Larnaca and Athens in July 2016, Cobalt Air has amassed a significant network. Stephanie Taylor speaks to Chief Executive Officer Andrew Madar to explore the carrier’s rapid expansion

New kid on the block, Cobalt Air, now serves 20 destinations across 12 countries. Its passenger count has been rising significantly since operations begun and, CEO Andrew Madar expects that trend only to continue.

Cobalt Air was created following the closure of government-run Cyprus Airways in January 2015 due to what Madar terms as an “unclear business model and organisational layout”. He explains: “The revenues weren’t too bad, but the cost structure was out of control and there were problems with the decision-making process.”

Nevertheless, Cobalt wasn’t alone in wanting to fill the gap left by the failed flag carrier. Tus Airways began regional operations in March 2016 and now has a fleet of two Fokker 100s and four Fokker 70s flying between Cyprus and multiple Greek destinations, as well as to Rome and Tel Aviv.

Vladislav Filev, owner of Russian carrier S7 Airlines, bought the old Cyprus Airways brand, which is now part of the S7 Group. Cyprus Airways restarted operations in March 2017, but still only uses a single Airbus A319 compared to Cobalt’s current fleet of six A320 Family aircraft (two A319-100s and four A320-200s).

Cobalt is the only one of the three with both an IATA membership and an IOSA certification. However, while it may seem well ahead of its Cypriot contemporaries today, before Madar was sent to Cyprus by Cobalt’s investors, he admits the airline suffered a rocky start: “During the first three weeks of operations we had quite a few problems due to misplanning in the preparation phase.”

When he went from being a silent Vice President to CEO on 1 August 2016, things started improving. Madar recounts: “We tightened up the operational performance while bringing in additional aircraft and changing our commercial strategy.

“We put the focus on network expansion as opposed to fleet expansion. Fleet expansion is more of a risk for airlines these days, because if you get too much hardware you can run into trouble. We started putting our footprint on territories in a very strategic way, thinking about changes for the summer and winter seasons and using those with cultural connections to the Cypriots as our core customer base. Then we looked at routes which had minimal competition.”

Recent additions to Cobalt’s short haul route network include twice-weekly winter services between Larnaca and Frankfurt and between Larnaca/Paphos and Moscow Sheremetyevo. From 28 March, Cobalt will begin daily flights between London-Heathrow and Larnaca. The airline has also already begun selling tickets for its upcoming Larnaca–Düsseldorf and Larnaca–Abu Dhabi services.

On top of this, Madar confirms Cobalt is also planning to offer long haul flights. “The reason we’re doing this is because the market is very saturated with low cost carriers that fly five to six hours in Europe. We have a very good location in Cyprus with good access to markets in the East and West from here and one of the most attractive markets in today’s market is China.

“I lived there myself for 20 years working in aviation, so I know that market very well. We have a lot of good connections there. We’re also looking at India, which is another up-and-coming market with good middle-class growth, which is our target market. >>

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