Cyprus has been divided by a UN-controlled demarcation line since the Turkish army invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists who wanted to join the country to Greece. The TRNC, self-proclaimed and recognized by Turkey alone, is inhabited by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers, while the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union, is populated by Greek Cypriots in the southern part.
The airspace is also cut in two. The TRNC, not recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), controls the northern part of the Nicosia FIR and part of the Ankara FIR on Turkey's southern coast, TRNC civil aviation director Mustafa Sofi told AFP.
The new terminal at Ercan airport, on the outskirts of Nicosia, on July 21, 2023 in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) © Birol BEBEK / AFP/Archives
It is from Turkey that the only airliners serving Ercan, an airport located on the outskirts of the occupied part of Nicosia and "not recognized by the international aviation community", remind AFP officials of the Directorate of Civil Aviation of the Republic of Cyprus. It controls only the airspace of the south of the island.
Despite the international embargo, Northern Cyprus benefits from trade with the south of the island - nine crossing points - and tourists attracted by beaches with turquoise waters and historical sites, at rather attractive prices due in particular to the fall of the Turkish lira, the currency of the TRNC which also accepts euros, dollars and pounds sterling.
The new Ercan terminal, six times larger than the old one now closed, "is an important step for our country, which will bring tourism and economic development to an even higher level," Tourism Minister Fikri Ataoglu told local media.
The duty-free shopping area of the new terminal at Ercan airport, on the outskirts of Nicosia, on July 21, 2023 in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) © Birol BEBEK / AFP/Archives
Tourism is crucial for the TRNC, and the investment consequent: "about 450 million euros" for a new runway and the new terminal that can accommodate 10 million passengers annually (four million in recent years), says Sofi. A level comparable to the two airports in the south of the island, Larnaca and Paphos (9.2 million passengers in 2022).
The Ercan terminal was inaugurated at the end of July in the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In the departure hall of this large modern building with a duty free area but where several developments remain to be made, only cities in Turkey served by Turkish companies appear on the boards.
TRNC Transport Minister Erhan Arikli hopes for international flights within "a year and a half or two years", he told AFP.
"Frankfurt, Paris, London"
But according to Stefan Talmon, a professor at the University of Bonn and an expert on Cyprus, "there can be no direct international flights to Ercan airport as long as the international community considers that there is only one state of Cyprus and recognizes the Greek Cypriot government as the government of the whole of Cyprus," he told AFP.
This issue was decided "in 2009 and 2010 by British courts seized by a Turkish-Cypriot airline which asked the British government to allow direct flights between London and Ercan airport", adds Mr Talmon.
Travelers present themselves at security checks at the new terminal at Ercan airport, on the outskirts of Nicosia, on July 21, 2023 in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) © Birol BEBEK / AFP/Archives
The request was rejected on the grounds that "there can be no direct flights until the Greek Cypriot government (which does not recognize the TRNC, editor's note) designates Ercan as an international airport", in accordance with the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, which must be respected by airlines, failing which they face heavy penalties, Says.
What the TRNC is looking for above all, he adds, are "direct flights from Frankfurt, Paris or London", which would allow tourists to "travel faster and more economically to northern Cyprus than by making the detour through Turkey or southern Cyprus".
But for Mr. Talmon, "without a political solution to the Cyprus question", whose negotiations on a reunification of the island have been at a standstill since 2017, "direct flights are not possible".
© 2023 AFP