Cyprus Aviation History – Part 4
Cyprus Turkish Airlines – KTHY
By Captain Emre Unel…..
Cyprus Turkish Airlines (KTHY, Kibris Turk Hava Yollari) was established in December 1974 in Nicosia with shares equally divided between the Turkish Cypriot Community and Turkish Airlines (THY). The airline’s founding was mainly a result of the war in July 1974 which led to the division of the island.
During the conflict the aviation infra structure of Cyprus had been almost completely destroyed. The country’s only airport at Nicosia had been lost; the fleet of national carrier Cyprus Airways was grounded.
Eventually limited air travel was restored with the re-launching Cyprus Airways from a provisional airfield at Larnaca in the south. Since Larnaca was not accessible to Turkish Cypriots, the north needed to establish its own links to the outside world. The home base of their airline was projected to be Tymbou aerodrome, a disused former RAF base east of Nicosia.
By early 1975 modest operations were in place at both Larnaca and Tymbou (renamed Ercan) airfields.
The first flight of the new airline took place on February 3rd 1975 with a Fokker F-28 from Istanbul to Ercan via Ankara. At that time Ercan like Larnaca was still a makeshift airfield with very limited facilities.
The only passenger jet able to fly in and out of Ercan was the rugged Fokker F-28. This airplane was especially designed to operate from short rough runways. The Fokker was leased from Turkish Airlines.
By 1976 Ercan airport had well developed and was able to receive all kinds of aircraft. Cyprus Turkish Airlines began leasing larger jets from various companies.
Airplanes leased were Boeing 737 from Sobelair (Sabena), Boeing 720 from Aero America, Douglas DC9 and Boeing 727 from THY.
Initial flights were between Cyprus and Turkey only, however in 1981 the first international route to London Heathrow was launched.
Come 1991 KTHY finally built up its own fleet by purchasing two Boeing 727-200s. In addition the company recruited its own operational and technical staff including flight deck and cabin crews.
Expansion continued with the wet lease of its first wide body aircraft an Airbus A310 from Lufthansa in 1994. The Airbus proved to be such a success that from 1996 onwards two more were acquired. Being very popular with passengers and able to carry a substantial cargo load the A310 was a valuable and reliable work horse.
With a sizeable Turkish Cypriot community living in the UK this was especially evident on the Ercan London route.
Export cargos from North Cyprus to Britain were mainly agricultural products and textiles.
In an attempt to supplement the slowly aging Boeing 727 fleet, two McDonnell Douglas MD90s were leased directly from the manufacturer in March 1997. However with an uncertain production future these planes only flew for one year with KTHY and were transferred to Turkish Airlines. In fact soon after that McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing and production of the MD90s eventually ceased.
The new millennium started with an ambitious fleet modernization program. Three brand new Boeing 737-800s joined the airline in spring 2000.
KTHY was proud to be one of the first companies worldwide to operate the 737-800.
Flight Crews, engineering and operational staff were trained at Boeing’s reputable training centre in Seattle, Washington. The aircraft were then flown by KTHY crews from the USA to Ercan where they arrived amongst joyful celebrations. A fourth Boeing 737-800 joined the fleet in 2009.
Simultaneously the old Boeing 727s were retired and sold to Libya’s Bouraq Airways where they flew on for quite a few years. These finally ended their lives at Tripoli Mitiga Airport where I managed to photograph them a few years ago.
In the meantime the Airbus 310s were rapidly approaching the end of their economic lives. They were gradually replaced by new state of art Airbus A320s and A321s.
Again KTHY flight crews and technical staff were trained by Airbus in Toulouse to operate these fine airplanes.
By the end of 2007 Cyprus Turkish Airlines was flying a young and very modern fleet of three Airbus 320/321 and four “new generation” Boeing 737s.
All was set for a bright future but unfortunately it was not to be.
POLITICS, SUCCESS AND DEMISE…….
Political non-recognition of North Cyprus meant that from the beginning, the airline faced many political and operational challenges. One of its biggest handicaps was that it was not possible to fly directly from Ercan to an airport other than in Turkey. This required expensive and time consuming intermediate stops at major Turkish airports before continuing to other places. Despite that KTHY managed to operate an extensive network of scheduled and holiday destinations to the UK, Western Europe, Scandinavia and Israel.
Scheduled flights were mostly to the UK, London Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester serving mostly ethnic travel between Northern Cyprus and the United Kingdom. These flights were operated as through flights with passengers remaining on board during the stopover in Turkey. Holiday charter flights to Europe and Israel were operated mainly from Mediterranean resort cities such as Antalya, Dalaman, Bodrum or Izmir.
Although it was de-jure registered as a Turkish company, there were many efforts to discredit and undermine the airline. During the many years of isolation of North Cyprus the company was the only lifeline and link to the outside world for the Turkish Cypriot community.
As the “flag carrier of an unrecognized state” the airline was not allowed to use “Cyprus” as identification. In order to operate international flights they were obliged to change their logo from “Cyprus” Turkish Airlines to “Kibris” Turkish Airlines.
The issue even went as far in that air traffic controllers outside Turkey refused to acknowledge the airlines call sign “Kibris”, instead using its more anonymous three letter code of KYV “Kilo Yankee Victor”. There was also a lot of pressure not to grant KTHY traffic rights to countries other than Turkey. This problem was largely overcome by showing flights as originating in Turkey. (Most of them actually did.) With the support of Turkish Airlines, KTHY even managed to obtain valuable slots at London Heathrow from where it originally operated as Turkish Airlines.
When an agreement was signed with a major German flight school to train young Turkish Cypriots to be airline pilots, the school was “advised” not to train pilots for an “illegal airline operating out of occupied territories….”
Similarly activities to prevent KTHY from leasing new Boeings and Airbuses proved to be unsuccessful.
However, as the years went on KTHY managed to overcome most of these problems. The fortunate thawing of relations between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities no doubt contributed to this fact. Eventually even the original logo “Cyprus” Turkish Airlines was accepted and all its aircraft once again displayed their Cypriot identity.
Air traffic controllers started to respond to “Kibris” as the call sign. This was now used during almost all routine radio communications. In addition young Turkish Cypriots completed their training in Germany and elsewhere to become successful professional pilots.
After years of struggle the airline had every chance of a bright future was it not for mostly internal factors which led to its demise. Being a political airline as well, the company was subject to interferences in almost every aspect.
In 2005 the Turkish government sold its shares to North Cyprus. And with it some of the support with which KTHY was able to survive for so many years was lost.
It was time for the airline to stand on its own feet.
However, KTHY was plagued by poor management and an outdated corporate mentality. It was also totally overstaffed (1000 employees for a fleet of 7 aircraft) with powerful unions holding the airline hostage whenever possible. Unrest and strikes were not uncommon. All this resulted in an inability to reform and to adjust to changes in the aviation industry eventually leading to serious financial difficulties.. Stiff competition from other airlines which had started to serve Ercan in the meantime further aggravated the situation.
In the end bankruptcy was inevitable and CYPRUS TURKISH AIRLINES had to cease operations on June 21st 2010.
Its brother CYPRUS AIRWAYS shared the same fate five years later for very much the same reasons.
Ironically Cyprus Turkish Airlines after overcoming so many obstacles during its 35 years of operations ended like a Greek tragedy.
It practically destroyed itself.
Needless to say the loss of KTHY also dealt a huge blow to the Turkish Cypriot community.
You might like to enjoy 2 short videos, one of a vintage Boeing 727 taking off from Budapest Ferihegy Airport shortly before retirement, and another of KTHY B737 landing at Helsinki.