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THE CHAOTIC situation at the island’s airports could affect flight safety, officials said yesterday, as ground handling staff responsible for the turmoil threatened to go on strike.

Head of the Cypriot Air-Accident Investigation Committee, Costas Orfanos warned that the situation at both Larnaca and Paphos airports could have an effect on flight security.

“There have been incidents where we have been forced to notify airline companies to take measures. While there is no need for panic as most cases have not been serious, this is definitely worrying us, as these incidents may constitute a problems in flight safety,” he said.

Communications Minister Nicos Nicolaides said yesterday that the Civil Aviation Authority was doing everything possible to guarantee that flight security was not threatened.

The state of affairs at the airports showed no signs of improvement yesterday. After Tuesday’s embarrassing incident where a group of passengers were boarded onto the wrong flight at Larnaca airport, a flight was delayed by more than half an hour as ground handling staff made a mistake in counting the number of suitcases boarded onto an aircraft. Air traffic control would not allow the Cyprus Airways plane to take off, forcing the pilot to call for the luggage to be removed from the aircraft to be recounted.

On Wednesday, Nicolaides issued an ultimatum to the two companies responsible for ground handling services stating that if the problems, ranging from a lack of communication and expertise, to a serious shortage of staff, were not rectified by Monday then airport operator Hermes would be instructed to break off the contract with the companies.

Ground handling at the island’s airports was taken over in May by a joint venture between Cyprus Airways (CY) and Swissport - GAP Vassilopoulos (Cyprus) Ltd, and a second joint venture; LGS (Louis, Gold Air and Service Air) Handling.

According to chairman of the House Communications committee, Zacharias Koulias, LGS had acted immediately to iron out any initial problems they faced, adding that Swissport was the company refusing to co-operate.

“In our case, what is being said about the chaotic situation about the airports does not affect us,” sources close to Louis told the Cyprus Mail yesterday.

“Of course there were some small teething problems since we took over because at very short notice we had to train people, but none of the serious incidents talked about are LGS related. We now believe that, from our point of view, ground handling services are at the same level as they were before we took over, however our plan is that we will go one step further in the provision of such services in the future.”

Swissport Operations Director could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Unions yesterday warned that workers could be forced to resort to taking strike action. The unions PEO and SEK warned Swissport to stop exploiting its workers, calling on them to employ 90 more members of staff as workers were forced to work overtime to cover shifts. The unions also announced that from yesterday, workers would not accept calls from their companies to work overtime.

DISY deputy and member of the House Communications committee Tasos Mitsopoulos said yesterday that the companies’ decision to alter the timetable for its workers was ill-advised.

“The two companies chose to change the workers timetable, something that has caused a great deal of agitation, meaning that they could even go on strike,” he said.

Mitsopoulos criticised the decision to transfer ground handling services at such a busy period for tourism.

“There was no time given for workers to become trained as the transfer of the ground handling operations from Hermes came at a bad time. The Civil Aviation should have communicated with the involved parties so that the switch took place during a smoother transition period,” he said.

By Nassos Stylianou,Friday, Cyprus Mail, July 4, 2008|||Airport chaos could become security issue
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