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Work starts on Greek airports upgrade

Tourists travelling to Greece and to many Greek islands next year can expect fewer delays thanks to a significant upgrade to island airports on islands such as Crete, Rhodes and Skiathos.

The Greek government says development work will start on revamping the country's 14 regional airports from November this year.

It comes in the wake of the go-ahead earlier this year for plans by the German-Greek consortium Fraport to give the airports a major facelift.

The consortium has earmarked more than €400 million for upgrades to airport facilities over the next five years.

Work is expected to start first on Mykonos, probably Greece's most popular island tourist destination and the gateway to rest of the Cyclades, including the islands of Naxos and Paros.

Mykonos airport has seen the biggest growth in passenger traffic this year, up more than 19% as well as an increase in the number of aircraft ferrying tourists on and off the island.

The airport upgrade for Mykonos includes an expansion of the existing passenger terminal, the building of a new terminal and an increase in the number of check-in desks from 12 to 16.

The improvement in airport facilities across Greece comes as authorities register a 9.4% rise in overall traffic between January and September this year.

Greek airports handled 48.2 million passengers over the period, with Greece's Civil Aviation Authority reporting a 4.5% rise in international flights.

In September this year, passenger traffic topped 7.8 million, up 9.8% on the same month last year, with domestic flights up 6.1% and international flights up 10.9% on September last year.

The airports of Athens, Crete (Heraklion), Rhodes, Thessaloniki and Corfu recorded the biggest growth in passenger traffic in September while the airport on Paros which has recently reopened grabbed the highest percentage growth at a phenomenal 140.7%.

Last year, Greece agreed a €1.2 billion deal with Fraport to take over the management of many Greek island airports when the government embarked on a privatisation program to help pay off some of the country's massive bailout loans.

Fraport was granted a 40-year lease to run the country's regional airports which have been state-owned ever since they were built.

Airports included in the contracts include those on Crete, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zakynthos. The deal also covers three mainland airports at Thessaloniki, Aktion and Kavala.

The Greek government landed a €1.234 billion upfront payment for the airports in April along with a pledge by Fraport to invest a further €400 million on improving and expanding airport infrastructure by 2021.

Fraport CEO Dr Stefan Schultz said: "We believe in Greece and its potential as one of the greatest travel destinations in the world. The goal of Fraport Greece is to enhance the travel experience for visitors from around the world by upgrading and expanding facilities and by improving operational processes, shopping and services."

Tourists are sure to be pleased with the improvement plans which many will agree are long overdue. Long queues and check-in delays are common at many Greek islands airports.

Fraport had come under fire earlier this year for being slow off the mark with the airports' revamp, but company officials explained that they decided to hold back on construction until the main holiday season was out o the way so as not to disrupt holiday traffic over the summer.

Fraport management points out they have already started background work designed to avoid disruption to the smooth operation of the airports over the summer and point to more than 5,000 urgent upgrade works already carried out this year.

The company added that the Greek government is aware of Fraport's time schedule and that the consortium is obliged by the deal to complete the full works over the next four years.

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