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Travel in the Greek islands can seem a marathon, given the number of islands and fascinating sights. Many visitors stay on one island but, with regular ferries and flights, there really is no need. There are seven island groups each with its own character - no two islands are the same but groups tend to share attributes, from the classic style of the Cyclades to the Venetian echoes of the Ionian; the Crusader castles of Rhodes to the green of Thassos.

kos seaplanes waterway hellenic
Seaplanes grounded until 2016

Holiday visitors hoping to Greek Island hop on one of the new inter-islands seaplane services look like they will have to wait a while longer. Hellenic Seaplanes intended to launch Greek Island seaplane services this year, but the economic crisis in Greece has helped to put the plans on hold. The company now says that seaplanes are unlikely to operate between the Greek islands until February 2016 at the earliest. It's not the first time the seaplane plans have suffered a setback. In 2011, the Greek Civil Aviation Authority approved 50 sites where seaplanes could land and take and companies were lining up to operate seaplane flights. Licences for waterways were granted in 2013 for several of the Ionian islands and by 2014 the popular holiday island of Corfu looked set to get the first Greek island seaplane services. But problems emerged in early 2015 when Hellenic Seaplanes admitted that although planes could take off from Corfu they had nowhere to land as other islands failed to develop waterway landing sites. The Greek economic crisis has also taken its toll as investment plans have been curbed. Companies that had announced plans to develop island waterways, invest in aviation management and promote booking services have put plans on hold until the economic outlook becomes clearer. Now Hellenic Seaplanes says the first test flights of seaplanes in Greece are not expected to take off until February 2016. The latest operational plan for 2016 includes a network of 112 waterways, ten of which will be regional, with each waterway capable of servicing two to three seaplanes. The cost of a ticket for a 30-minute seaplane flight is expected to be €30 to 75 euros per passenger and the seaplanes will have a seating capacity of up to 19 passengers. The delay is another disappointment both for holidaymakers, hoping to avoid long-distance ferry journeys with a fast seaplane flight, and for the more remote islands that have been hoping to boost tourist visitors Greek energy company NRG, which recently decided to invest in the seaplane market with the creation of three waterways on the North Aegean islands of Chios, Psara and Oinousses are optimistic about the future of seaplane services in Greece. A spokesman said: "We are confident that Greece, in the coming years, will have a huge potential in attracting global tourism and we intend to be a part of the effort that will help the country's tourism development". But it remains to be seen how long it will take to get seaplane services into the air. The whole project has been something of an embarrassment for the Greek authorities so far, especially after announcing earlier this yeat that the development of a waterways network is a project of national importance. The Greek government has been keen to push ahead with seaplane services and wanted to cash in on the 2015 tourist season by opening up at least 100 seaplane routes this year. It's not the first time that attempts to set up a seaplane network in the Greek Islands has run into administrative buffers. A similar scheme in 2008 ended with private companies pulling out, blaming the Greek government for excessive bureaucratic red tape.

Tourists fly in on cheap flight deals
Greek night flights on hold

Holidaymakers planning flights in and out of Greek Island airports this summer may find problems in booking flights at night. Many Greek island airports across the country are facing serious problems as government cash dries up for vital maintenance work, it has been reported. According to Greek newspaper Ethnos, some tourists have already faced delays as night-time navigational aids at some Greek Island airports wait for their regular service checks while other island airports face a deterioration of runway surfaces. Reports claim there have already been several delays to night flights and a number of schedule changes in services to the airport of Mytilene on Lesvos. They say the reason for the delays is that maintenance of night flying navigational equipment has fallen behind schedule resulting in the cancellation of some night flights to the island. Airports at popular holiday islands like Skiathos and Santorini recently got a one-month extension for the annual inspection of their night flight navigational aids, but this is about to come to an end. It may mean that night flights to these islands may be cancelled until airport navigational equipment has been passed by hard-pressed inspectors. This isn't great news for tourist visitors at the start of the main holiday season for the Greek Islands in a year when airports in Greece are reporting record numbers of passengers. Issues with navigational radio aid systems have resulted in several airports curtailing their night flying schedules. Greek air traffic controllers say flights without navigation aids are permitted in daylight hours and for half an hour after sunset but not later. Problems have also been reported at Mykonos airport where runway repairs have not been carried out for more than two years. Officials claim that ad hoc repairs to the aircraft runway have been carried out multiple times while they wait for a major overhaul. The latest issues arise after many Greek airports report a huge rise in visitor numbers this year. Athens International Airport has announced its best season ever, with more than six million passengers in the first five months of the year, up nearly 24% on last year. According to figures total of 1.65 million passengers passed through its gates in May alone, up 22% on the same period last year, with domestic travellers notching up a 20% rise while international travellers saw a 28% increase. At the same time, the number of flights in Athens increased 17% to 61,950 in the first five months of 2015 compared to the same period last year. In May, flights increased almost 14% with domestic traffic up by more than 9%. This has been the best year for Athens airport since it first opened. The poorest figures were recorded in 2002 and 2013 with just 4 million passengers each of the years. Airports at Chania, on Crete, Mykonos and Santorini have also reported increases in passenger traffic this year with passenger numbers up 94%, 46% and 38% respectively. Travel giant TUI, which includes Thomson and First Choice holidays, has given a boost to long-term prospects of Greek tourism with stated aims of flying in 10% more tourists to Greece in 2015 compared to last year. TUI says it is aiming to extend Greece's tourism season from 180 days to 210 this year adding that 'Greece remains an authentic destination and a strategic priority for TUI'.

Hellenic Seaplanes
No seaplanes in 2015

Hopes have faded for plans to get seaplanes flying tourist services between Greek Islands during the 2015 summer holiday season. Lack of a proper waterway network has left seaplane company Hellenic Seaplanes with plenty of aircraft but nowhere for them to land. Despite plans to open up to 100 seaplane routes across Greece and the Greek Islands this year, the company now admits that Corfu island has the only port with a registered waterway. Hellenic Seaplanes announced the setback in a meeting in Athens with Athens with Alternate Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Communications for Greece, Christos Spirtzis. Hellenic president Nikolas Charalambous said: "If all goes well, from 2016 Greeks can fly almost everywhere in the country via seaplanes." Although around 40 islands have applied for a waterway license to begin operating seaplane services none is likely to be operational until the end of the year. Seaplanes can only take off and land at licensed waterways and only the port at Corfu Town has managed to get a license so far. Planes can take off from there, but they have nowhere to go. It's already taken several years to get this project off the ground and the waterway license granted to Corfu Town harbour looked set to pave the way for up to100 seaplane routes between the Greek islands. The seaplane services are not only meant to improve transport facilities for islanders but were also expected to open up many islands to more tourism. Smaller islands without regular ferry services were expected to benefit most with regular flights bringing in many more holiday visitors over the summer season. The Greek government has bent over backwards to speed up licensing procedures and hoped to get dozens of flights taking off this summer to cash in on the current boom in Greek Islands holidays. The minister said the development of a waterways network is a project of national importance. "Seaplanes can give islands a boost, create new jobs and make it easier to connect the mainland with destinations that face difficulties in transportation," he added. Tests on takeoff and landing at special waterways built got underway as long ago as July last year with the government suggesting that seaplane services would be aimed directly at tourists. But Greek island ports were slow to respond to the scheme, despite cash incentives to get started with building waterway networks to allow the seaplanes to operate. Applications for waterways were submitted at several ports and harbours in the Greek islands and on the Greek mainland including ports at Heraklion and Rethymnon on Crete, the mainland ports of Volos, Patras and Lavrio, and on the islands of Corfu, Skyros and Zante. The is not the first time that attempt to establish a seaplane network to link the Greek Islands has run into problems. A similar project was launched more than 10 years ago and a pilot program begun in the Ionian Sea. Bur seaplane companies pulled out in 2008 blaming the Greek government for excessive bureaucratic red tape and the rejection of a plea to fly seaplanes to the mainland port of Piraeus, at Athens

Kefalonia airport sign
Greek airports sell-off

Plans to sell more than a dozen Greek island holiday airports have been put on hold by the new left-wing Greek government. Greece had agreed a €1.2 billion deal with German airport operator Fraport to run 14 regional airports, including those on popular Greek holiday islands like Corfu, Crete and Rhodes. The airport deal as part of the previous government's privatisation program and was aimed at building up the cash-strapped Greek economy. Fraport along with the Copelouzos Greek energy group was to be granted a 40-year lease to run regional airports in popular Greek island destinations. But the newly elected Syriza party insists the deal has not been sealed. State minister Alekos Flabouraris said for "It will be halted and we will review it." "For us, airports are not a package to be sold, like the others did. Some of them can be run by the municipality, others by private individuals, we'll see," he added. State-run airports affected by the move include those on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos. Also part of the deal were options on smaller islands and on several mainland airports including Thessaloniki, which serves the Halkidiki holiday area, and Preveza, the main airport for holidaymakers heading to Lefkas island in the Ionian Sea. Holiday visitors to Greece have long been frustrated by delays, queues and lack of facilities at many airports on the Greek islands. The sell-off was being handled by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) which is also in charge of the privatisation of many Greek island ferry ports. The aim was to increase income, create jobs and boost island economies as well as upgrading airports to provide better facilities and a faster tourist throughput. But the major package holiday firms were worried that it might lead to higher airport charges and a hike in fares to tourist passengers as rising costs would sooner or later be passed on to holiday customers. On Crete, the proposed sale triggered protest demonstrations at the loss of the profitable airport at Chania which opponents claimed would benefit corporate companies at the expense of local people. Under the terms of the deal, the German-led consortium was to be given under two years to upgrade and renovate existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions. With tourist arrivals last year expected to have reached as record 21.5 million many consider an upgrade of Greek island airports is long overdue. But others consider this a bad time to be selling off valuable state assets despite the government being short of cash. The former Greek government had been under pressure to sell after falling behind on its privatisation schedule that has promised €22 billion of sales by 2013 but had only delivered €5 billion last year towards paying off a €240bn bailout from Europe and world banks. Fraport has promised to invest &euro300 million in improvements to the Greek island airports over the first four years of the deal. But the new Greek government has insisted it will now review all the privatisation contracts that were signed by the outgoing administration. It appears that holiday visitors to the Greek Islands have some time to wait before seeing any improvements to their travel experience as they make their way through hot, overcrowded airports. It looks like usual long queues, baggage delays and lack of seating in Greek airports are set to be with us for some time to come.

greek ferry fire norman atlantic
Greek ferry fire

At least 12 are thought to have died and hundreds of passengers rescued from a burning Greek ferry sailing from Greece to Italy. Rescue workers say nearly 40 passengers remain unaccounted for, but it is unclear whether that is due to inaccurate manifest lists. Two Albanian seamen who took part in the rescue operation on a tugboat are thought to be among the dead. Rescue helicopters worked through the night to lift more than 420 passengers to safety while Italian and Greek Navy ships joined in to aid the evacuation of the burning vessel . A total of 478 passengers and crew members were on board the boat, operated by Greek ferry company ANEK Lines, which caught fire west of the Greek holiday island of Corfu, while sailing the Adriatic Sea from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona in Italy. The Italian-flagged ferry boat 'Norman Atlantic' was operating as a temporary replacement for the normal ANEK Lines ferry which is currently undergoing annual maintenance. Rescue operations have been hampered by poor weather, rough seas and high winds. Rescue helicopters have worked through the night lifting passengers off the burning ferry and transferring them to nearby vessels. Greek and Italian helicopters made repeated trips to the boat to airlift passengers from countries that include Britain, Greece, Germany, Italy, Austria, Turkey, France and the Netherlands to safety. At least seven merchant ships, in the area at the time of the fire breaking out on Sunday morning, have joined the rescue effort and have surrounded the stricken vessel to form a barrier against the high winds. Greek Maritime Minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, said the very bad weather, with winds of up to 55 miles per hour, has hindered the rescue operations. He said: "We are doing everything we can to save those on board and no one will be left helpless in this tough situation. It is one of the most complicated rescue operations that we have ever done." Attempts to tow the boat to safety have failed but the fire is now thought to be under control. Greek and Italian Navy ships have arrived to help in the coordinated rescue effort while fire tugs are spraying the burning ferry with seawater to help extinguish the blaze. Eye witnesses report that passengers were unable to reach lifeboats because the decks where they were stored were too hot to walk on and shoes melted on the deck surface. Passengers huddled on decks, away from the fire and fumes, but suffered cold winds and freezing temperatures as they waited to be rescued The first rescue ship carrying 49 people evacuated from the ferry arrived at the Italian port of Bari early today while 100 people were taken off the ferry during the night, according to reports from the Italian coastguard. Meanwhile an investigation has already begun into how the vessel caught fire. The Norman Atlantic has a capacity of carrying around 220 vehicles and many of those on board are thought to be lorry drivers. According to initial reports the blaze broke out in the exterior garage of the vessel at around 6am on Sunday. Italian news reports say the fire broke out on the ferry's vehicle deck before spreading. Some passengers managed to board life rafts but the rough seas prevented many more from evacuating the ship. The chief executive of the Italian Visentini group that owns the vessel said the ferry had passed a recent technical inspection and the boat was in "full working order", according to reports from the Italian news agency Ansa.

corfu airport
Greek island airports sold

More than a dozen Greek Island airports are set to be sold off in a move aimed at filling the Greek government's cash-strapped coffers. Airports on some of the most popular holiday islands are about to be privatised in a deal that will give private investors a 40-year lease to run the airports. No doubt to the annoyance of the many Greeks, who blame Germany for its six years of recession and tough austerity measures, the tender for the airports has been won by Frankfurt-based airport operator Fraport with help from the Greek industrial group Copelouzos. The consortium will pay €1.2bn for three mainland and 11 Greek island airports that together handle around 19 million passengers per year. They include airports on Crete, Corfu, Zante, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos, Skiathos, Mykonos, Santorini, Samos and Lesvos. There are added options on smaller islands and on several mainland airports including Thessaloniki, which serves the Halkidiki holiday area, and Preveza, the main airport for holidaymakers travelling to Lefkas in the Ionian. The sale was handled by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), the organisation that is responsible for the sell-off of not only Greece's regional airports but many Greek ferry ports as well. Until now, all Greek regional airports have been state-owned and supervised by the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority (YPA). Better facilities promised at Greek island airports Supporters of the privatisation plan forecast that all the airports can increase their income, create more jobs and support the local economies by possible better usage of their infrastructure as well as other commercial activities. According to HRADF, the sale will result in upgrading any airports to provide better and faster tourist facilities and so enhance Greece's profile as a world-class tourist destination. Critics argue it will lead to higher fares to tourist passengers as privatised airports hike landing fees and cargo handling charges, costs that will sooner or later be passed on to customers. In Chania, protest demonstration have been held by local people angry at the sell-off of such a profitable airport, a move they claim will only benefit the interests of corporate companies and not the local community. Some of the airports, such as those at Chania on Crete, currently have a with heavy military presence and usage but only the civil areas will be privatised. Under the terms of the deals, the German/Greek consortium will have 20 months to upgrade and renovate existing facilities while new works and extensions must be completed within four years. Holiday visitors expected to top 20 million With tourist arrivals in 2014 tourist arrivals expected to top last year's record of 18 million by a significant and with tourists are forecast to spend €13.5bn, many Greeks consider this a bad time to be selling off valuable state assets But the Greek government has been under pressure to sell, having fallen badly behind on a privatisation schedule that promised €22bn of sales by 2013, but has only delivered €5bn so far towards paying off the €240bn bailout by the IMF. At least holiday passengers should benefit from better facilities at many of the island airports. Fraport has promised to invest €300m in improvements to the airports in the next four years. Fraport is one of the largest airport management companies in Germany with 11 airports ion its books including one of the largest in Europe at Frankfurt. Also pouring cash into the tourist market recently has been the Greek-owned Aegean Airlines, which recently announced a €300m investment in seven new A320s and the addition of 14 new international routes into Greece.

landing at corfu airport
Greek airports could do better

Greek holiday chiefs have called for big improvements to airports across the Greek Islands in a bid to boost tourism even further in the years ahead. This summer season has seen a 13% rise in recorded international flights to Greece and its islands compared to the same January to October period in 2013, along with a 1% rise in domestic flights. And the aviation sector contributes an estimated €5.7 billion to the Greek economy every year with €3.3 billion coming directly from airlines, airports, air traffic control and ground handling. The significant role that airports play in the Greek tourism chain was spelt out at a recent conference held by the Hellenic Association of Airline Representatives (SAAE) in Thessaloniki. But SAAE president, Dinos Frantzeskakis told delegates that much more could be done to strengthen the aviation sector which provides up to 100,000 jobs as well as bringing major benefits to the Greek economy. He added that improvements must be made to facilities and passenger services, especially in the busiest Greek Island airports such as Chania and Heraklion on Crete and in busy holiday airports like Santorini and Mykonos. Too few winter flights to Greece And he called on the government to impose "more competitive" charges at Athens International Airport in order to attract more airlines during the winter months when tourist passenger numbers decline sharply. "Low cost companies and long haul airlines do not fly to Athens in the winter, which means that we cannot have competitive city breaks. This hurts the months that we want to extend the tourism season," he told delegates. He also attacked the 'spatosimo' air passenger tax that has been imposed on international and domestic passengers departing from all Greek airports which had not been reduced despite promises made earlier this year by the Greek government. It looks like another record year for Greek Island holidays in 2014 with visitor numbers looking set to top the 21 million mark this year with the giant share of arrivals by air. Airport arrival figures show that visitors to Greece in October this year topped 1.2 million, a 23% rise on last year making an overall 15% increase on figures for the ten months from January to October 2014. And 2014 is the third year in a row that Greece has set new records for international visitors despite a sharp drop n Russian visitors earlier this year following the collapse of several east European package tour operators. Airports good for Greek jobs Greek airports are already benefiting from low ground handling charges, a vital element when airlines choose an airport as a hub where aircraft can be parked and maintained. Some 3,000 workers are employed in ground handling services in Greece but this number doubles in the high summer holiday season when airports get far busier. During peak season, usually from late March to late October, employees in this ground handling activity at Greek airports amount for some 6,000 jobs, often on Greek islands where finding work is not easy,. The cost of ground handling at airports in Greece is about a third of handling costs at most major European airports, making Greece an attractive proposition for low cost airlines. There are currently 118 airlines operating in Greece of which 73 have sales offices in the country. The main aims of the association, are to advance and develop airline industry in parallel with tourism development in Greece as a whole. The growth in the beach holiday market over the past three years has been vital for the Greek economy, bringing in billions of euros in foreign cash at a time when Greece is struggling to repay international debts with tourism now accounting for 16% of the country's GDP. The president of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis has said it is 'imperative' to improve the prospects for tourism in the Greek Islands even more. He has urged the Greek government to "further shield the sector, boost investment, improve quality, support small and medium tourism enterprises, and improve competitiveness and sustainability of the Greek tourism." With airlines and airports playing such a major role it could well improve the prospect for even higher levels of tourism if airport taxes and costs can be lifted further.

Greek island ferry bad weather
Greek ferry hopping

High winds and big waves make boarding this Greek ferry a scary operation. Thousands of holiday visitors drive their cars onto Greek Island ferries over the summer holiday months but an island hopping trip in the car out of season can be a different proposition entirely. Getting a car on board a ferry when the wind is blowing and the waters are choppy can turn out to be a tricky business, as this video shot on the island of Alonissos shows. Nothing is too much trouble for the ferry crew of the Apollo Hellas as they give the drivers as much help as possible, but with the ferry boat riding high as the waves hit the harbour walls it is a small miracle that the drivers get aboard without being catapulted into the sea. This film footage was shot in October when strong winds made hitting the boarding plank a hit and miss affair and drivers were forced to time their power run up the ramp at exactly the right moment. High waves were really rocking the boat several feet above the harbour wall and leaving its boarding planks dangling in mid-air on each wave crest. It was up to the drivers to punch their pedals at the exact moment that the ramps lay flat on the harbour wall - just a few seconds to get aboard safely. Too soon and they risked ploughing into the raised ramps, too late and the car could have been flung into the air and into the raging sea. Scary to watch, even more scary to attempt. Thankfully, they all got aboard safely but it gives a new meaning to island hopping on a Greek ferry. This one is the Apollo Hellas is operated by Hellenic Seaways. It can carry 1,500 passengers and 98 cars and runs on the ferry route year round from Alonissos to the mainland port of Volos calling at the popular Greek holiday islands of Skopelos and Skiathos on the way. Can I take a holiday rental car on a Greek Island ferry? This is a question often asked by holidaymakers and the answer, unfortunately, is not very often. Many car rental agencies in Greece, especially those that operate on smaller islands, do not allow customers to take their hire cars for a ride on a Greek ferry. Cars can get 'stranded' on other islands in bad weather or, if they are involved in an accident on another island, recovery can be a very expensive operation. Also, there is the increased danger of damage on a ferry as holiday car hire visitors try to manoeuvre vehicles in the small deck area aboard or indeed if someone else bumps into them. In practice, island visitors will often rent a car and drive it aboard a Greek ferry anyway without telling the car rental agency of their plans. That is fine if nothing goes wrong, but it can prove a very expensive trip if things don't go to plan and the car gets damaged or stolen on the 'wrong' island and insurance companies refuse to pay out. Given the huge availability of car hire on most Greek islands, most holidaymakers will choose rent a vehicle for a few days on one island, hop on a ferry as a foot passenger and hire another car of motorcycle when they get to their destination. On small islands like Alonissos, most of the resorts are within walking distance of the port, have a bus service or are reached by taxi anyway. If you do hire a car in Greece, take nor that driving can be more stressful than at home. Roads in the Greek Islands are not always the best and streets through villages can be very narrow and confusingly complicated. Signs are often absent, small or even just plain wrong. Many roads have few lights and with narrow lanes, steep bends and sharp drops, driving at night can be a real challenge. Greek drivers too are not the most courteous and holiday drivers should expect nothing but contempt and a few sharp 'toots' on the horn. That said, if you want experience the real back roads of Greece, especially on larger islands, then hiring a car is almost essential. But whatever you do, don't try to board a ferry in high winds and choppy seas. The video was filmed by Dimitris Papavasileiou. Article based on a story published by Keep Talking Greece

google greece street view
Google tours Greek sights

Streetview video glimpse of the best of Greece. Holidaymakers who fancy a quick tour of the top Greek attractions can take a 90 second virtual tour with the release of a Google street-view video. The video has appeared on the company's YouTube channel and showcases many of the top sights in Greece and the Greek Islands in a high speed journey around the mainland and across the sea to some of the most popular Greek holiday islands. The Google street-view video tour starts from the Acropolis in Athens and heads off at high speed to allow viewers to glimpse a few of the mainland sights that include views of Thessaloniki and the remarkable cliffs of Meteora before speeding away to the Greek Islands. Don't expect a sedate cruise of the sights though. Fast and furious views include drives through Chania in western Crete at breakneck speed as well as fleeting glimpses of some of top attractions on the islands of Corfu, Rhodes and Paros. The street-view tour also plays to the sound of a modern , loud and drum-thumping Greek pop song that will probably have most viewers clicking as quickly as possible on the YouTube mute control button. Glimpses are all anyone can hope for in a 90 second YouTube video, no more than a brief taster of what is on offer for those considering a holiday visit to Greece or the Greek Islands. But potential holiday visitors now have a good selections on satellite and photo images of Greece thanks to Google's map coverage of the country and its islands. Most of the major tourist centres on the larger Greek islands now have street level coverage from Google streetmap but many of the smaller islands, naturally, have yet to get a visit from the company's camera vans. This is a pity from a tourist perspective as all the more popular centres are already well known while a street level glimpse, even a virtual one, of less traveled islands could encourage many more visitors. Although resorts like Kefalos on Kos get good street view coverage, nearby islands like Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos and Lipsi get no street views at all. A pity, as such small islands are not only more beautiful but would be easier to cover given the few roads and short distances involved. Nevertheless, it has to be conceded that Goggle map coverage of the Greek Islands in now pretty good, even though low resolution satellite images are still the only ones available on some of the more remote islands. Satellite maps and visitor photos do give potential holidaymakers a pretty good idea of what to expect on a Greek Island holiday and, given the importance of tourism to the Greek economy where it accounts for around 16% of GDP, it is a little surprising that the Greek government doesn't to more to fund and facilitate better Goggle street-view coverage of the more remote island spots.

Greek seaplane
Tests start on seaplane services

Holiday tourists targeted in plans to for seaplane flights. Seaplane services between the holiday islands of Greece are a step nearer as the go-ahead is given to test water runways at Greek ports in the Peloponnese. It paves the way to introduce seaplane services between many Greek Islands later this year, boosting services for tourists with a network of seaplanes operating between islands and between islands and ports on the Greek mainland. The decision to test the operation of water runways for seaplanes was agreed at a meeting of the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Michalis Papadopoulos and the Peloponnese regional authority. A joint statement suggested that seaplane services would be aimed directly at tourists and not be developed as an alternative to inter-island transport. The statement said: "Our goal is for seaplanes to form an alternative touristic product, not a new regular means of transportation." The is not the first attempt to establish a seaplane network across the Greek Islands, In 2005, a total of 15 licences for water airports were issued under new laws and a pilot program was launched between islands in the Ionian Sea. Bur seaplane companies pulled out in 2008, however, blaming the government for excessive red tape, endless legal problems and the failure to back plans for seaplane links to mainland Attica and notably to Athens. New laws to ease the introduction of seaplane services were passed by the Greek parliament in April this year agreeing to issue licences to operate water airports to those companies able to submit a full technical report on the feasibility of services to the government. Applications have already been submitted at several ports and harbours in the Greek island and on the Greek mainland including Heraklion and Rethymnon on Crete, the mainland ports of Volos, Patras and Lavrio, and the islands of Corfu, Skyros and Zante. Once permits are granted, the port and harbour authorities can put out to tender any leases to seaplane companies to operate the water airports and provide seaplane services. The Greek company Hellenic Seaplanes has already published mock-up designs of a new waterway launch pad on the holiday island of Kos and plans to operate scheduled flights from both islands, mainland ports and lakes where current transport links are difficult.. Plans include tourist flyover tours of the islands and a variety of excursion packages. It could also operate chartered flights for up to 19 passengers and cargo flights to some of the more remote Greek islands. Talks have been held with around 200 Greek port authorities where seaplane services could be developed as has plans to fly from up to 100 destinations across the Greek Islands this year.

blue flag 2014
Greek beaches net Blue Flags

Greek island sands the standard on 408 clean beaches. It's a bumper year for the Greek Islands in 2014 as its holiday beaches notch up a total of 408 prestigious Blue Flag awards for safe, clean sands and another 10 awards for boat marinas. Greece now ranks number two in the world for the number of quality beach awards after reigning in 16 more awards than last year's 393 for clean beaches and nine for well-run marinas. Blue Flag awards are the gold standard in the tourism industry with a programme of environmental protection now implemented by 51 countries across the world through the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). The Blue Flag label has been an international symbol of quality and cleanliness worldwide since 1987 when the first flags were handed out to beach resorts and boat marinas that met very strict standards for cleanliness and safety. The International Jury handed out more than 4,000 awards worldwide this year for beaches that pass 33 strict criteria relating to cleanliness, organization, information, safety, protection for nature and environmental awareness while marinas must meet 25 quality standards. The Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature operates the scheme in Greece and the Greek Islands. Founded in 1951, HSPN is the oldest Greek environmental organisation and operates throughout the country for the protection of nature. The environmental group has been at the forefront of efforts to establish National Parks across Greece and the Greek Islands, to protect habitats and threatened species of fauna and flora, and to modernise and implement environmental legislation. Those beach resorts that pass the strict tests are allowed to fly a Blue Flag over the sands so that visitors know it to be a safe, clean and well looked after beach. Inspectors make spot checks of beach resorts throughout the year to ensure compliance with the strict rules. Any problems or failures could lead to temporary or permanent lowering the Blue Flag and even the removal of beach or marina from the Greek and international program site. Many major travel companies pick out the Blue Flag status of resorts when recommending destinations to their customers. To win a Blue Flag beach resort must show that bathing water is clean as confirmed by spot checks and analysis, adequate litter bins and periodic cleaning of the beach of rubbish. Other factors include a ban on vehicles on the beach, ho unauthorised camping and adequate sanitary facilities.

cruise ship
Greek seamen drop anchor

Strikes threaten Greek holidays. Holiday visitors to the Greek Islands could find ferry services halted if shipping companies fail to find back pay owed to crews. Seamen's unions are angry at the reluctance of some passenger ship companies to settle unpaid wages. They have already staged a two-day strike in protest at the situation and threaten to take matters further. The Panhellenic Seamen's Union PNO claims that for the past two years, shipping companies have been taking advantage of the political and financial situation of Greece to stall on salary payments to their employees. They allege that some mariners have been working unpaid for as long as six months. The union is also angry at government plans to impose extra taxes on tourist vessels. The executive board of PNO has already decided to immobilize ships whose owners owe back-pay to their employees and several ships have been confined to port. They are also to join a 24-hour nationwide strike on the day theGreek Ministry of Shipping tables its bill on tourist vessels on April 9. PNO has sent an official announcement to the Greek Prime Minister, leaders of the Greek political parties and shipping companies protesting at the issue of unpaid wages. Action has so far been confined to the port of Piraeus but it could be extended to other ports across Greece and the Greek islands and upset the plans of many holidaymakers this summer. Greek shipping companies themselves are in dispute with the government over plans to make them contribute more to help the country's ailing finances. In particular, Greek ship owners may be see tonnage taxes tripled to help the Greek economy. The President of the Union of Greek Shipowners (UGS), Theodoros Veniamis warns the new measure may be unconstitutional. He said the biggest problem is not the amount of money that many Shipowners will have to pay but that the Greek government plans to make the existing voluntary compulsory. If the Greek government refuses to change course, Greek Shipowners are threatening to sail under foreign flags or to move their companies abroad. The unsettled situation will do little for the Greek tourism industry with record numbers expected to book Greek Island holidays this year. Any visitors who plan to use Greek Island ferries may well look elsewhere unless the situation can be quickly resolved.

National Hellenic Music
Greek museum delights

Delve into the greatest collection of Greek culture. The National Hellenic Museum in Chicago is one of America's oldest institutions. It celebrates Greek cultural influences and is home to an extensive library of artefacts dating back to 1200 BC. The museum also hosts events each year promoting Greek literature, history, art and cuisine. Andy Cornish learns more about an enviable array of treasures. Based in Chicago's Greektown, on South Halsted Street, the Museum has gone through numerous transformations and rebranding. Founded as the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center in 1983, it wasn't until 1992 that HMCC launched its first museum facility which was then located on Michigan Avenue. Since then the museum has been transformed into a world recognised site for promoting and showcasing Greek history, culture and art. The summer of 2009 saw a major rebrand and a new name. The 'National Hellenic Museum' as it is now known was given a fresh new logo and a new mission statement: "Connecting generations through Greek history, culture and art". The museum boasts an enviable array of treasures spanning over a thousand years of Greek history. Among the many artefacts you will find artwork and photographs, musical instruments, transitional costumes and furniture. There are also almost 15,000 books and publications in the document library. These documents include handwritten letters, a huge collection of Greek-language newspapers and some priceless 17th and 18th century manuscripts. The National Hellenic Museum also forms an important social hub for the America-Greek community. There are many events taking place throughout the year on a weekly or monthly schedule which is well documented on the website. Several larger events such as the annual Ambrosia Ball attract positive media coverage in the local press offering dinner, music and ethnic performances with a Greek theme to special guests. Well known chefs from around the world have also been known to use the venue to showcase popular Mediterranean cooking. This month, the museum is celebrating Greek Independence with children from a local Greek school performing songs, poems and displaying craft work. There is also a Greek Independence parade, commemorating the 193rd anniversary of Greek independence. The Museum's Greek Language and Culture Classes will ride the National Hellenic Museum's float down Halsted from W. Randolph Street to Van Buren.

Greek sail tax hits tourists

Yacht owners must pay to sail through Greek waters. Sailing a yacht through Greek waters on a Greek Island holiday will not come cheap next year as the Greek government implements its latest tax gathering plan. Greece recently announced a new law that will make yacht owners pay a tax for the privilege of sailing boats through Greek waters or for mooring their vessels in Greek ports. Tourist leaders on many Greek islands are unhappy with the sailing tax which they fear will reduce the number of tourist visitors and drive yacht owners and sailors to ports in other countries. Anyone thinking of sailing through Greek waters for a holiday next year will first have to pay a hefty tax, depending on the size of the yacht. The 'sea circulation' tax applies to small vessels of all nationalities, commercial or leisure, that are more than seven metres in length and want to sail, moor or drop anchor in Greek waters. The tax will allow boat owners to sail through Greek waters for one calendar year only and the annual charges range from €200 for vessels of seven to eight metres long, €300 for vessels of eight to ten metres and €400 for vessels of ten to twelve metres. Boat and yacht owners with bigger vessels will pay and extra €100 for every metre but they can pay monthly for each month they sail in Greek waters or they can get a 30% discount if they pay for a year up front, but only if their boat is based permanently in Greece. The new sailing tax covers the whole period covered by the payment but it is not repayable if the vessel is taken outside Greek waters early. The introduction of the tax for sailing your boat in Greek waters comes after two years of consultation but the decision has already had an impact on yacht owners who have bases their boats on Greek islands. Since the law was passed many owners with boats based in Greece have sailed them out of Greek waters and snapping up permanent mooring in countries like Turkey where they don't face taxes. Others are demanding concessions for specific boat categories and threatening to leave Greece and relocate their yachts elsewhere.

hellenic seaplanes
Seaplanes set to launch

Zante island is the latest to give the green light. The holiday island of Zante is the latest to sign up to secure regular seaplane services to other Greek Islands. Greek company Hellenic Seaplanes has been given green light from the Zakynthos Port Fund to get a license that will allow it to construct a seaplane waterway from which to launch flights in the island's main port. The company plans to launch several seaplane flights before next year's holiday season gets under way and create a network of waterways linking the Greek islands. Hellenic Seaplanes is also talking to Greek port authorities at Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Skopelos, Lesvos, Kalamata and Alonissos. Hellenic Seaplanes boss Nikolas Charalambous said: "The creation of a waterways network and development of seaplane transport in Greece is now a fact and we will try to cover all destinations," The company recently got the go-ahead to build a seaplane waterway at the port of Volos on the mainland and it plans to launch seaplane flights from Volos next April. An area of Volos port was earmarked as a seaplane base some years ago when Argo Airways tried to get seaplane services under way but became bogged down Greek bureaucracy and eventually ceased operations in Greece. A recent relaxation in laws has simplified the seaplane licensing process and reignited interest in connecting all the Greek islands through a seaplane network of 100 waterways by the end of 2014. Plans to run similar services in the Ionian are already well advanced with the first waterway set to operate from Corfu later this year. Seaplane company Water Airports CA is expected to launch flights from Corfu in the near future with the licensing of waterways in Paxos, and Ereikoussa and Othonous on the Diapontia islands already in the pipeline. According to reports, Water Airports will launch flights from Corfu to Othonous, Erikousa and Paxos with special flights for cruise passengers that want to see aerial views of Corfu. The Halkida Port Authority has also expressed an interest in seaplane services to link Evia to the Sporades islands and Athens.

british airways tailplanes
New Greek flights from BA

British Airways flies to Santorini and Mykonos. Flagship UK carrier British Airways is to launch scheduled flights to two popular Greek Island holiday destinations next year. The airline is to include direct flights to Greece's popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos from March 2014. Scheduled flights to both Greek islands will begin late March with services until late September 2014. The new routes were announced at the World Travel Market (WTM) in London where the airline's marketing executives held a meeting with representatives from the Region of South Aegean and the Santorini Hotel Association. Both Santorini and Mykonos have seen a huge growth in tourism this year with Santorini forecasting 20% increase on 2012 visitor numbers and an estimated 1.8 million tourists by the end of the 2013 holiday season. Also announced at WTM were more details of how the Aegean Airlines acquisition of Olympic Air will affect tourist flights in Greece and the Greek Islands. According to Aegean the airline is set to expand services both in Greece and abroad as the new company cashes in on the cost savings from the consolidation with estimated saving up to €35 million annually. Aegean has already announced a new fare structure and the new fares will be offered to Olympic Air's passengers from February 2014. Now the company has announced a package of initiatives to support the more remote areas of Greece and the Greek Islands with lower fares to boost demand. Aegean Airlines also intend to offer new international destinations and new routes in 2014 with 15 new destinations from Athens early next year rising to 47 international flight destinations by the end of the year. New routes include flight to Birmingham in the UK with other to France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon and Cyprus. In 2014, 45 to 50 new routes will be added from the company's eight bases in Greece including the airline's new base in Chania, Crete. Aegean Airlines and Olympic Air recently met representatives from 15 of the more remote Greek Islands a series of initiatives of air routes initiatives that include increasing in airline seat capacity to Naxos, Astypalea, Ikaria, Zakynthos, Skiathos, Karpathos and Kythira. The European Commission competition authorities recently cleared the merger of the two Greek air carriers.

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