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No room for mistakes

By Annie Charalambous

Larnaca-based Orion Airways chief financial officer Nick Manoudakis believes the aviation industry allows no mistakes, so the low-cost carrier set to fly in December has to be careful with its first steps.

“We will finalise our commercial plan soon, but basically we will start with two destinations and then expand. You need to grow carefully, learn to walk before you run,” the 1957-born Greek airline expert told the Cyprus Weekly in an interview.

“The aviation industry is competitive, very competitive, it does not forgive any mistakes, it’s very unforgiving, and I’m not talking about crashes, I’m talking about business mistakes, commercial mistakes, operational mistakes,” he added.

Manoudakis, who was one of the orchestrators of the very successful Luton-based easyJet budget carrier, said Athens and London are the most obvious destinations for Orion’s first steps.

“We are looking for destinations out of Larnaca that make sense. Athens and London make sense but there are a lot of a typical markets from Cyprus, for example Beirut or Jordan or Tehran,” he said.

“The aviation industry here is growing, the location of the island is perfect, it is in the right place because you can easily make it a hub…my own estimate is that the number of airlines will grow, there is a market, but seasonality is an issue and a challenge.”

The company has already announced plans for its expansion with three Boeing 737-800s expected this year and an overall fleet of eight aircraft by the end of 2017.

Manoudakis, whose father was in the commercial navy, grew up in Piraeus with his mother and only brother – a year younger and a naval architect.

The two brothers attended Berkeley University in the San Francisco bay area after targeting that university, because “we heard good things about it, it had a very good reputation, it was it hard to get in”.

Manoudakis graduated in four years with the highest honours and with a triple major.

“I studied business administration with an emphasis on accounting and finance, computer science and at the same time I was also a music major at the conservatory, classical guitar. I played the university orchestra during my time at Berkeley, a beautiful place.

“In those days companies were recruiting us, they would come to universities, I chose to join a public accounting firm. It was a big firm in the USA, based in San Francisco and the reason I decided to do that was because I thought it would be a good foundation.”

He stayed there until he went back to Greece to work at the office of Sir Stelios Hadjioannou just before the ‘birth’ of easyJet.

“I accidentally got into the airlines, he tried to buy an ailing airline, he did not achieve it so he said: why don’t we start an airline? It was a challenge, I had no idea about airlines, we discussed it, I knew about low-cost airlines, we had them in the US but not in Europe, so we discussed the low-cost concept.”

“And the rest is history, we decided to set up a low-cost carrier in the UK because it was a bigger market…I was sent to London to look for an airport, got the deal with Luton and stayed there for about five years.”

The other easyJet-related business – café, car, hotel – followed and even though nothing was as successful as the airline, Manoudakis believes they did make the brand more valuable.

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