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Corfu seaplanes have nowhere to go

- by Jeremy Guest

Corfu may be on track to launch its new seaplane services this year but officials are concerned about exactly where they will be allowed to land.

Seaplane flights got a boost last year when the Greek government decided to fast-track applications to build seaplane landing strips on islands across Greece.

Seaplanes are seen as a quickly and relatively cheap way to open up tourist transport links between the Greek Islands and help boost holiday visitors numbers on even the most remote islands.

Corfu was one of the first to apply for a license to operate seaplane services from the main port to other islands in the Ionian Sea such as Paxos, Kefalonia,Lefkas and Zakynthos.

But it appears that other Greek Islands in the Ionian group have not been as swift as Corfu in getting clearance to build offshore seaplane landing strips.

Now Corfu tourist leaders are worried that seaplanes may be able to take off from Corfu this summer but not have anywhere to land.

A special conference organised to discuss the development of seaplane services warned that priority must be given to establishing suitable landing sites in the Ionian if the Corfu project was to be a success.

"It is very important after the water-drome in Corfu is licensed that water-dromes on other Ionian Islands offer facilities for the sustainable operation of seaplanes in the rest of the region,' delegates were told.

A dossier supporting the building of a water-drome on the neighbouring island of Paxos is still waiting for authorisation. Hopes are high that it will get the greek light this month but the granting of a license to build is only the first stage in a complex planning process.

It may well be that Corfu seaplanes could be sitting idle in Corfu harbour this year because they have no official places where they can land.

This could be a major embarrassment for the Greek authorities who have been keen to push ahead with seaplane services to cash in on the 2015 tourist season.

Although Paxos is pushing ahead with plans for a water-drome there has been a 'distinct lack of interest' in the scheme by authorities on Lefkas where initial interest in the seaplane project quickly faded, the conference was told.

But it's not only the other Ionian islands where initial enthusiasm has stalled. Mainland ports in the Peloponnese and Ioannina have yet to get plans for seaplane services off the ground.

"The challenge now is to proceed as quickly as possible licensing water-dromes in other Ionian islands, the continental shores of our region and also in the Peloponnese or Ioannina for tourist seaplane flight to become viable," conference delegates heard.

"With Corfu the only port with a licensed water-drome, routes cannot be started and for seaplane companies to be sustainable, it should be possible for a network of routes and development of a minimum flight operations to the other Ionian Islands, Lake of Ioannina and the port of Patras."

The lack of interest in the seaplane project is puzzling. It is not as though water-dromes are expensive to build. Construction and maintenance costs are relatively small.

On Paxos, for example, the wooden deck and a prefabricated shelter to check in passengers for seaplane flights had come in at less that €20,000.

And it is not as though seaplane project have been bogged down in red tape, as happened the last time seaplane services were attempted in the Ionian. The Greek Ministry of Transport is bending over backwards to get licenses issued.

The Mayor of Corfu warned delegates that seaplanes ought to have adopted as a means of transport between the Ionian islands 'many decades ago'.

He told the meeting: "There are countries that base an entire internal communication network in seaplanes. For the Ionian islands will be very important for the development of communication between our islands."

Seaplanes are expected to be a cheap and versatile means of transport between islands and serve not only the tourism sector but also be used to fly in medical supplies, small items of cargo and take part in search and rescue operations.