June 10, 2023

Late Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Raif Denktaş inspects the CTA/KTHY Boeing 720 at Ercan Airport

By Oz Orman … A Cypriot Aviation Story….

“We lived out of our suitcases, so one day we were working for Cyprus Turkish Airlines and the next we would be subbed out to Laker Airways or whoever. Eisenberg was one of those people who can turn s**t into gold for himself…all of us in the end were left with “good-bye” and lots of back paychecks that bounced. As I recall Aeroamerica still owes me $5,500 or so, having said all that it was still a wonderful job!”

I have previously produced aviation videos about the island, which have kindly been supported and published by CyprusScene. But, when you read a quote like that above, you can’t help but be intrigued. It was written by an American flight engineer who worked for the Aeroamerica company, and a story unravelled involving an old photograph, a 15-17 Boeing aircraft, politics, and alleged links to the CIA.

The ball started rolling when I came across a relative’s photograph of the Aeroamerica jet decked in CTA-KTHY livery at Ercan in the late 1970s. My cousin worked at the airport back then and I wanted to find out more about the plane, its history, and links to Cypriot aviation.

The Late Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Raif Denktaş inspects the CTA/KTHY Boeing 720 at Ercan Airport

Now the name, Arthur Joël Eisenberg may not mean a lot to many people. But, back in the mid-1970s, the Seattle-based businessman helped support a two-year partnership with our very own Cyprus Turkish Airlines-Kıbrıs Türk Hava Yolları – KTHY. Eisenberg’s, Aeroamerica airline was based at Seattle’s Boeing Field and provided charters and leases to airlines and destinations around the world. The Jewish-American founder and owner of Aeroamerica wet-leased a Boeing 720-027 to North Cyprus’s fledging airline from 1977-79. This was three years after the 1974 conflict, and with Ercan Airport acting as an air bridge for the then Turkish Federated State of Cyprus.

Cyprus Turkish Airlines-Kıbrıs Türk Hava Yolları – KTHY was founded with the help of Turkish Airlines and the Cash Development of the Consolidated Fund of the Assembly of the Turkish Cypriot Community (Konsolide Fonu Inkisaf Sandigi) back in December 1975. Initially, the airline used aircraft belonging to Turkey’s main carrier, but issues with strikes and walk-outs effecting Turkish aviation then followed in the mid to late 1970s.

The Turkish Cypriot carrier needed to find a solution and found it in the form of a U.S. carrier, Aeroamerica. Research about the deal has proved sketchy with limited information about the agreement. Persons who were around at the time when the partnership was signed have unfortunately passed on or have not responded to requests for further information.

Fortunately, there is photographic and video evidence of the Boeing 720-027’s time with CTA-KTHY. Some people have even posted information on social media, and this helped with my research and follow-up YouTube video project. This must have been a difficult time for all concerned, as no doubt political pressure was put upon the relative parties to scupper the deal. However, Eisenberg and his American employees persevered during these periods and supported routes to Istanbul, Ankara, and Adana from the island. The Boeing 720, named ‘Yavru Vatan’ became the airline’s main-stay and workhorse flying around the clock.

As Aeroamerica Captain Harris said, “Ercan Airport and its ground crew were great and that the service provided was at ICAO Standards (Bozkurt newspaper- 1977).” Something that the other side likes to dismiss.

Further tales and stories materialised from that time, which I have shared on Morton Park FC  YouTube video channel and I made this latest one below:

During the research process. I came across the usual allegations of CIA and NATO involvement in he whole Cyprus affair. Some believed that the whole Aeroamerica and CTA/KTHY was a front for the CIA to monitor what was going on in Cyprus at the time. It then that got me thinking of the film made in 1990, starring Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Junior. You may recall it, ‘Air America’. It tells the tale of a young pilot (Downey Jr) who finds himself recruited unwittingly into a covert and corrupt CIA airlift operation in Laos during the Vietnam conflict. According to information online, it has been reported that the story is entirely true. The film isn’t a classic and I wouldn’t waste your time watching it unless you are fans of the two actors. It isn’t their best work, but it does seem to have coincidental similarities between the airline’s names i.e. ‘Air America’ and that of ‘Aeroamerica’.

CIA Links? Air America and Aeroamerica- Coincidence or Conspiracies?

Could this have been a CIA rebranding? Who knows?

The CTA/KTHY agreement with Aeroamerica ended in 1979, with the Turkish Cypriot carrier again leasing aircraft from Turkish Airlines. The Boeing 720-027 registration- N731T, which had served North Cyprus so well would eventually be scrapped between 1980-1982. Its final resting place being in sunny Bournemouth in England.

In 1982, Eisenberg’s, Aeroamerica airline ceased operations after financial difficulties. The businessman tried to get it going again, but court and bankruptcy battles ensued for the rest of the decade. Former employees do speak fondly of their time flying for the airline, especially those who served with CTA/KTHY from 1977-79. Unfortunately, one of the American stewardesses, who worked in Cyprus perished in an air crash in Detroit in 1987, whilst serving with American Airlines.

As many of the CyprusScene readership know, the country lost its national flag carrier (CTA-KTHY) in 2010, when it was declared bankrupt. However, for two years in the late 1970s. The Boeing 720-027: N731T showed that the Turkish Cypriots could make a go of things with the help of outside bodies. Can we say the same now?

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