Campaigners believe they have found a safe and legal way of sidestepping the ban on direct flights from the UK and Northern Cyprus.
The breakthrough should prove a big bonus for British holidaymakers because prices on the idyllic Mediterranean island are a quarter less than in the southern part of the island.
At present, direct flights from the UK to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) are prohibited because the UK in common with EU states and the US does not recognise the country.
But campaigners have concluded that if planes flying into Turkish airspace – only 40 miles from the TRNC – then are given a new Turkish flight number they are effectively flying in from Turkey – the one country that does recognise North Cyprus.
Moves to engineer direct flights come just as a £450 million new airport has been opened in the TRNC. Ercan (Tymbou) Airport is now the largest airport on the entire island of Cyprus, with an annual capacity of 10 million passengers and a 3,100-metre runway.
The UK Government does not currently recognise the TRNC and as a result, will not authorise direct flights to Ercan Airport. Therefore, the TRNC community and British tourists seeking to visit Northern Cyprus have to weather travel via Istanbul and get a connecting flight to Ercan, or alternatively, fly to the South of Cyprus and drive up through the border, where they may encounter a hostile Greek Cypriot border force.
Direct flights would take just 4 hours from the UK and, as the TRNC uses Turkish lira instead of euros (as they do in Greek Cyprus), British holidaymakers would get a bargain. Living costs are estimated to be twenty five per cent cheaper in North Cyprus compared to the south, with restaurants, bars and tourist attractions all much cheaper.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed on the new runway for the opening of the new airport and expressed his hopes that its completion will “serve the stability of the TRNC and the region” before calling for the introduction of direct flights worldwide.
“I invite the international community to heed the call of then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who admitted there is no UN resolution that could justify the isolation of our Turkish Cypriot brothers, and I invite them to lift these restrictions”, he said.
The President of the TRNC, Ersin Tatar, also spoke at the ceremony, calling on the international community to allow direct flights to the new airport.
He singled out the United Kingdom, where there is a sizeable Turkish Cypriot community, as an example, and said that freedom of travel is a human right.
Speaking about the new terminal, President Tatar said “the south hasn’t got an airport like this, and neither do most countries.”
The Freedom and Fairness for Northern Cyprus campaign are currently in discussions with all major commercial airlines in the region about the proposal and are optimistic that direct flights could begin “very soon”.
Chet Ramadan, Chairman of Freedom and Fairness for Northern Cyprus, said:
“This would make such a positive impact on both the TRNC community travelling between North Cyprus and the UK – particularly the elderly who struggle with connecting flights. It is time that Turkish Cypriots were treated as equals, as humans by the international community. We have been isolated for almost fifty years – this could be a significant step forward.”
Dr Muhammet Yasarata, Founder and Managing Director of Cyprus Paradise, the leading travel operator to the TRNC, said:
“Both British travellers and Turkish Cypriots have been facing challenges when attempting to fly to Northern Cyprus in both directions with layovers in Turkey significantly lengthening their journeys. This situation has been particularly difficult for many elderly individuals who find it hard to manage transit flights at Turkish airports. This circumstance is unjust and calls for improvement.”
Peter Wilkins of the British Resident’s Society of Northern Cyprus said:
“For too long, anyone travelling between the UK and North Cyprus have been made to jump through hoops. It is completely unnecessary, and this development is very welcome. The current situation is discriminatory towards the elderly, disabled and those with young families. It also causes major environmental issues as two flights are needed rather than one. It is disappointing that airlines have to use a loophole to get around this madness rather than the UK Government stepping in and doing the sensible thing by allowing direct flights.“