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Taking to the Skies

Book by British journalist takes a look at aviation history in Middle East. 

Cyprus had served as an escape for people working in Iraq and the Gulf as early as 1832, a newly published book shows.

"So that's an interesting precursor of the role that Cyprus plays today," author of ‘History in the Arab Skies: Aviation's Impact on the Middle East' Gerald Butt tells The Cyprus Weekly. 

But the Nicosia-based award-winning BBC correspondent life-long aviation enthusiast says Cyprus - unfortunately - played a very small part in the region's aviation history.

"Up to the 1930s it seems virtually no aircraft came to Cyprus at all, very little was recorded on the air," he says. 

Then British governor of the island, Sir Ronald Storrs, went as far as to say that he didn't think a single aircraft had landed in Cyprus since the end of the First World War.

But Storrs was very keen to see Cyprus put on the map of aviation and for a short time flights coming from England to India passing through the Middle East stopped off the sea of Limassol. 

"They were sea planes, and for six months they would stop at Limassol before flying eastward or westward but they turned out to be uneconomic and lasted only for that six-months period," he says.

But says it was very early in the Second World War that Cyprus became a base with the British Air Force and remained up to independence. 

British troops took off from Cyprus in the Suez crisis in 1956 - and still do through the two military bases the formed colony still maintains here."

"I think it's strange that Cyprus did not feature more from the early days and I think it's partly because of the nature of the colony itself," says Butt. 

"It was regarded as a bit of a backwater and it wasn't really given the attention that other colonies did. And the other point was that Egypt was the focus of British interests in this region," he added.

Cairo was the hub at the time and that was the main reason Cyprus missed out, he says. 

But there is one event in the 1930s that he finds quite interesting, and a rare known example of Cypriot connection with the early history of aviation.

"One of the first women pilots, a pioneer pilot, a New Zealander called Jean Butten, flew solo in a tiny bit-plane from England to Australia on a number of occasions, and on one of them she landed in Nicosia to refill and spend the nigh,: he says. 

"And in her memoirs, she gave a very graphic description of flying over the island towards Nicosia in the summer and how bumpy it was on that tiny plane because of the heat rising from the ground, the thermos from the ground," he added.

Even more than that, there was a young Armenian Cypriot photographer - Deran Abedessian - who had heard that this lady had landed in Nicosia. 

"He got on his bicycle and rode up to Nicosia airport and he took a fantastic picture of Butten, I think one of the nicest taken of her ever," says Butt.

"I'm happy his family gave me permission to use it in the book and I think this is a little treasure, it's a rare example, a known example of Cypriot connection with the early history of aviation," he added. 

Reviewed by Annie Charalambous

Cyprus Weekly - Local News page 8
November 18-24, 2011

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