Corfu to get first seaplane flights
Andy Cornish: November 2014
The popular holiday island of Corfu looks set to get Greek island seaplane services flying again after a deal was signed to open the first water airport in Greece.
The move follows clearance by Greek environmental officials on the impact of a water airport to the south-west of the main harbour in Corfu Town.
The agreement should pave the way for up to 100 seaplane services to Greek islands across the Aegean, providing tourist visitors with quick and easy access to popular holiday resorts as well as to many of the more remote Greek islands.
The private company Hellenic Seaplanes has plans to operate scheduled flights from Athens to all Greek islands, coastal ports and lakes where the current transportation system is inadequate or problematic.
The company says scheduled inter-island routes will be established based on demand generated from the local communities and from company partners.
The approval for the creation of the first water airport in Greece on the island of Corfu was signed by Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis following a meeting with officials from the Corfu Port Authority and senior executives of Hellenic Seaplanes.
Approval has been granted for the creation of a new water airport to the south-west of the existing port of Corfu with buildings, a floating pier and permission for up to 10 flights per day.
A nearby desalination unit may have to be rebuilt at the port's eastern entrance to help make way for the new seaplane port.
Greek Environment Minister Giannis Maniatis said: "With this approval, we are giving the green light to create water airports across the country, having now configured all the required processes."
"The support of the investment initiative and the formation of another development landscape in the country will substantially contribute to the upgrading of the tourist product and the creation of new jobs."
Greek seaplanes take 10 years to get off the ground
It has certainly been a long time getting inter-island seaplane services off the ground in Greece. The first Greek seaplane service was launched by Canadian-backed company AirSea Lines way back in 2004 with seaplanes flying out of the holiday resort of Gouvia.
The Greek company used two de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft to run seaplane services from the marina at Gouvia, Corfu to the nearby islands of Paxi and to Ithaka, off the coast of Kefalonia.
In 2007 AirSea Lines tried to expand its network into the Aegean but was forced to use the smaller port of Lavrio rather than its preferred location of Piraeus, near Athens, after finding insufficient infrastructure at Piraeus for seaplane operations.
But the airline ceased operations the following year in 2008, citing Greek bureaucratic and infrastructure hurdles and unworkable regulations by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry.
The problems could have been overcome but for Greek government red tape that held up negotiations for months. Among the problems cited was the demand that only Greek pilots be allowed to fly the planes.
Ironically, it was the collapse of the Greek economy and a possible exit from Europe that helped pave the way for the revival of seaplane services as the government set about clearing red tape and bureaucracy that threatened to stifle entrepreneurial companies.
Red tape cleared for seaplane flights
Hellenic Seaplanes was set up in 2013, with headquarters in Athens, following the passing of the bill in the Greek parliament that set the legal framework for water aerodrome and seaplane operations in Greece, relaxed regulations and cleared much of the red tape that had dogged the original plans of AirSea Lines.
Hellenic Seaplanes now plans to operate around 100 scheduled flights between Greek islands and coastal ports by the end of 2015. As well as scheduled seaplane services, the company also plans sightseeing tours over the Greek Islands as well as a variety of excursion packages.
It also hopes to launch charter flights and private fire flights for tourist and business groups and for government, corporate, institutional, scientific, medivac, search and rescue, sports teams, advertising and other promotional services.
The latest plans should prove a big boost to tourism in the Greek islands. Many of the more remote islands should get a significant tourist boost as they become much easier to reach, especially islands with poor ferry connections.
Corfu and the Ionian islands provide an excellent platform to launch operations as, although islands like Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are close to each other, ferry connections between them and many of the smaller offshire islands such as Ithaka, Paxos and Meganissi are relatively poor.