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Greek island air route subsidies face the axe

The cash-strapped Greek government looks set to axe subsidies for loss-making airline routes to several Greek Islands.

The popular holiday island of Zante may be among those that will lose out when cutbacks come into force later this year.

Greek Transport Minister Christos Spirtzis said the country could no longer afford to subsidise loss-making aircraft flights to remote islands.

The government is to look at 'unprofitable routes' where airlines have benefitted from huge subsidies to keep flights operating.

Among those set for the axe routes from Athens to Zante and Thessaloniki to Corfu.

The move follows the privatisation of 14 airports across the Greek Islands earlier this year.

Mr Spirtzis said the current system of subsidies costs around € 45 million a year.

Many of the more remote Greek islands rely heavily on grants to maintain small airports and keep open vital links to the mainland.

The Greek government is set to draw up new criteria for the allocation of subsidies which will take into account seasonality, passenger numbers, island population and economic need.

The more remote the island, the less likely that subsidies will be cut, according to the government.

Mr Spirtzis said that "really isolated island routes" would continue to operate and that islands like Kalymnos and Kastelorizo as well as other remote areas in Greece "should not worry".

More than a dozen Greek Island airports were sold off to private investors earlier this year in a move aimed at filling the Greek government's cash-strapped coffers.

A German — Greek consortium paid €1.2bn to run three mainland and 11 Greek island airports that together handle around 19 million passengers per year.

They included airports on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos.

Under terms of the deal, the consortium has two years to upgrade existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions.

With tourist arrivals expected to reach record levels this year, many considered an upgrade of Greek island airports long overdue.

Meanwhile, no-frills airline easyJet has announced a new summer route from London Stansted to Zante with weekly Saturday flights from May 28 .

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