LARNACA, Cyprus — Cyprus opened an ultra-modern airport on Saturday that it hopes will boost flagging tourism and boost prospects of it becoming a regional transport hub.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias opened the new Larnaca terminal, built by a consortium of French and Cypriot companies, at a ceremony attended by 2,000 guests including French European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche.
“Today serves as a landmark in the history of tourism development and the island’s infrastructure in general,” Christofias said.
“This work plays a significant role in upgrading Cyprus as a main transit hub in the coming decades.”
The 100,000 square metre (1.1 million square foot) high-tech terminal is four times larger than its predecessor, just a couple of kilometres away on the island’s south coast.
The old terminal had originally been built as a makeshift facility in February 1975 after the island’s only airport, in the capital Nicosia, got caught up in no-man’s land following the Turkish invasion eight months earlier.
Larnaca airport now has double the capacity to handle passenger traffic of up to 7.5 million people annually with a provision to extend this to nearly 10 million when the need arises.
Key features include 67 check-in counters, 16 air bridges, departure and arrivals situated on different levels and parking for 2,650 vehicles.
It took three years to build at a cost 656 million euros (973 million dollars) in what is one the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Cyprus.
Officials hope the new airport will also attract foreign investment to Cyprus.
Flight operations from the new airport will begin on Tuesday, with Cyprus Airways and easyjet flights only and become fully operational from November 17.
In a bid to attract more tourists and promote Cyprus as a regional service centre an upgraded airport in Paphos, on the west coast opened last year at a cost of 127 million euros and is able to manage 2.7 million passengers a year.
The Mediterranean island attracts around 2.5 million tourists a year from mainly EU countries, but the global financial crisis has seen arrivals decline by 10.7 percent and revenue slide 16.1 percent in the first nine months.
On the back of lower tourism revenue, Cyprus expects negative GDP growth this year of 0.5 percent — the first time the economy has contracted in three decades.
The Hermes Airports consortium was awarded the contract in 2005 to rebuild, expand and operate the island’s two airports in an 800 million euro investment.
The work was financed under the build-operate-transfer scheme that allows private business to run the airports on a 25-year lease from the government.
It is financed exclusively by Hermes, with 33 percent of gross revenue paid to the state while the government also collects a fix annual fee of 3.5 million euros.