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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.

New ferry link for Sporades

Holiday visitors to Skiathos have a new ferry link from the Greek mainland as Golden Star Ferries launches a new service to the Sporades islands. Gold Star is operating two high-speed ferries to the Sporades islands daily over the summer months. The ferries both run daily between the mainland ports of Volos and Thessaloniki to the Sporades islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonissos. The routes will give Greek island hoppers in the Sporades a major boost to ferry services between the islands. The ferry company's Super Cat ferry runs a morning service from Volos to Skiathos and back leaving Volos at 9 am. Just after noon, the same ferry returns to Skiathos, then sails on the Skopelos and Alonissos before heading to Thessaloniki where it berths around 7 pm. The company's Super Speed ferry leaves Thessaloniki around 10 am for Skiathos, then sails on to Skopelos and Alonissos, returning to Skopelos and Skiathos before sailing to mainland Volos, arriving there about 5 pm. A ferry service between Volos and Skiathos will operate every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning using whichever of the ferries in berthed in Volos at the time. Golden Star Ferries originally planned to use these vessels to run ferry services to the Sporades from Piraeus but they abandoned the plans as too much of a financial risk. The ferry company then received the approval instead to operate routes connecting Thessaloniki to the Sporades islands. Both ferries were acquired only last year. The high-speed catamaran Super Cat was previously used in the Baltic. The Super Speed is the passenger-only high-speed trimaran formerly called Krilo Eclipse. Most holiday visitors will be more interested in the creation of extra ferry links between the Sporades islands. The new services should make daily visits from one island to another a much more likely proposition, At the moment Skiathos takes the giant share of holiday visitors thanks to an international airport and its high number of holiday beaches. Visits to Skopelos to Alonissos have been hampered by few ferry services and those that do run, operate early in the morning. Hellenic Seaways operates ferried between Skiathos and Agios Konstantinos three times a week. Ferry company ANES also operated ferry and catamaran services to Agios Konstantinos. Most holiday visitors usually get to Skopelos and Alonissos by charter flight to Skiathos then a ferry hop to the respective island. From Skiathos, there are several ferry and hydrofoil crossings every day to Skopelos, a journey of around 45 minutes, and Alonissos which takes about an hour. Skiathos also gets an extra ferry link this summer as it has been included in a Greek government subsidised high-speed route between Thessaloniki and Crete. The service runs twice a week between Thessaloniki, Skiathos, Syros and Heraklion on Crete but only for about three months in the summer.

Jet 2 com aircraft
Greek holiday airport boost

Holiday visitors to the Greek islands will be well aware of how frustrating airport check-ins can be with long queues at outdated and inadequate island airports. That looks set to change this year following the sell-off of 14 regional state-run airports to the private German-Greek consortium Fraport last year. The sell-off went ahead with pledges to pump millions of euros into upgrading airports on islands such as Rhodes, Crete, Corfu and Skiathos. As well as five new passenger terminals at Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos and Lesvos, Fraport has promised major upgrades at airports across Greece and the Greek Islands. Terminal upgrades include more check-in counters, security lanes and departure gates. And it's not only terminals that are getting a clean-up, the company is also expanding runways, increasing aircraft parking stands, fire stations and airport aprons. The company says all work should be completed by 2021 with major island improvements for Chania, Corfu, Kavala (for Thassos), Kefalonia, Kos, Lesvos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zante. As work goes ahead Fraport has announced a surge in new flights to many of these airports. UK and German holiday flight companies inaugurating new flights this summer include Jet2.com, British Airways and Germania. Fraport executive George Vilos said: "We are pleased to welcome on a daily basis new routes at our airports – a clear demonstration of the existing potential both for the airlines and destinations." New routes by British flyer Jet2.com include those between Thessaloniki and London, Kefalonia and London and Zakynthos and Birmingham. Jet2.com plans to introduce new routes to Thessaloniki from Birmingham, Glasgow, Newcastle; to Rhodes from Belfast; to Kos from Edinburgh and Birmingham; and to Kefalonia from Glasgow. British Airways launched new flights from London (Heathrow) to Kefalonia last month and German carrier Germania is expanding service to Greece for 2018 with flights to Corfu, Kos, Rhodes, Samos, Thessaloniki, Zakynthos and Lesvos. Mykonos has already welcomed new flights by Qatar Airways from Doha for the first time. Fraport says more airlines are ready to increase flights to the Greek Islands including carriers such as Aegean, easyJet, Lufthansa, Ryanair, Thomas Cook and the TUI Group. It all bodes well for the Geek Island holidays' summer season with international arrivals at Greek airports overall already up 11% this year and aircraft slots for regional airports (mainly on Greek islands ) up nearly 17% to 2.7 million. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras predicts 2018 will be the best year ever for Greek tourism with forecasts of some 32 million visitors – a 12.8% rise on last year. But warning signs have been flagged up by big falls in the Turkish lira this year which could make holidays to Turkey much more competitive this summer.

Hellenic Seaways two ferries
New owner for Greek ferry firm

The new owners of Greek island ferry operator Hellenic Seaways pledge not to increase ferry ticket prices on popular Greek island routes when they take over the Greek ferry company later the year. The ferry company Hellenic Seaways is to be taken over by Attica Group following the green light from Greece's competition authority. Attica Group, which already operates the Blue Star and Superfast ferry lines, will take a controlling interest in Hellenic Seaways from the Italian Grimaldi Group. The deal raises concern about ferry ticket prices and the ability of newcomers to break into the Greek ferry market on routes operated by Hellenic Seaways. But part of the deal approved by the commission is that ferry ticket prices are put on hold and that competition remains open on ferry routes where Hellenic Seaways is the only company currently providing ferry services. Hellenic Seaways has been sailing since 1999 in its current form and operates 18 ferries connecting more than 36 ports in the Northeast Aegean, the Cyclades, the Saronic Gulf and the Sporades. Currently Hellenic operates ferry routes in the Cyclades from the mainland ports of Piraeus and Rafina to popular Greek holiday islands such as Ios, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini and Syros as well as regular services between islands in the Cyclades and Crete. Other Hellenic routes include those from Piraeus to the Saronic islands of Aegina, Agistri, Hydra, Poros and Spetses as well as catamaran services in the Sporades from Alonissos, Skopelos and Skiathos to the mainland ports at Volos and Agios Konstantinos. Also, under the terms of the takeover deal, Attica may be required to add routes to some of the more remote Greek islands that either don't have a ferry service or only irregular visits by ferries. Attica Group CEO Spyros Paschalis said: "The completion of the acquisition of sole control over HSW by Attica Group in accordance with its business plan, creates the conditions for sustainable development of the Greek passenger ferry industry, supports the national economy, strengthens the local communities of island, employs local seamen and ensures the interests of shareholders through a strong and competitive production model." Following approval, Attica Group is expected to proceed with the completion of the required contractual actions to acquire a 98.83% of HSW's share capital. Hellenic Seaways has not only been providing ferry services in Greece for many years, it has also expanded its fleet over the past few years, launching nine new ships, two of which were built entirely in Greece. in 2007 the Nissos Chios began ferry services from Piraeus to the islands of Chios and Samos and, in the same year, the luxury liner Ariadne, at that time the largest passenger vehicle ferry in Greece, started sailing from Piraeus to the Northeast Aegean islands of Ikaria and Samos. And in 2016, Hellenic Seaways extended its ferry fleet further with the launch of the completely rebuilt Highspeed 7 and Hellenic Highspeed ferries as well as sailings of the 2,200-passenger and car ferry vessel Nissos Samos.

Santorini cruise ships
Santorini sinks under cruise ships

Santorini may be a favourite island for holidaymakers but it's also a must-see port of call for cruise ships and looks set to pose problems for yet another year. Not only its Santorini the most popular Greek island destination for regular tourists but in the spring the island also gets swamped by tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors. Any holidaymaker staying in the island resorts of Fira to Oia will experience the heart sink as the next cruise ship pulls in and thousands pour down the gangplanks before ascending the cliff face to cram the streets. You might think that local shopkeepers and taverna owners jump with joy at the sight of another cruise ships but the sad fact is, Santorini islander benefit little from the extra arrivals. According to Bank of Greece figures, cruise tourism contributes just 8% to the economy of Santorini, compared to 44% for the port of Piraeus, near Athens and 15% to the island of Corfu. And cruise ship visitors spend a lot less in the shops and cafes than other tourists as they mostly hop ashore to take a few photos of the notable Santorini sunsets before climbing back aboard to get their inclusive evening meals. You only have to wander the overcrowded streets above the port to wonder if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. The Santorini island population amounts to only 15,000 people yet more than 12,000 tourists arrive on cruise ships every day during the summer with almost all of them cramming into the tourist hotspots of Fira and Oia. On busy days, cruise ships queue up for a berth in the caldera and some even transfer passengers on small pleasure boats until they can bag a berth. Add to this the 2,000 or so daily arrivals on scheduled high-speed ferry services from Crete and it results in days when it is almost impossible to find a spot free from the hordes And it's not just tourist on foot that causes problems with overcrowding. Hundreds of tour buses and shuttle services now operate on the island to carry cruise ship tourists around the island sights. Many buses now become trapped in the narrow village streets, especially in the evening when they haul in their passengers to take a photo of the famous sunsets over the caldera. Recent research papers have issued dire warnings if Santorini authorities fail to tackle the problem. The number of houses on Santorini has trebled since 1970 from under 4,000 to more than 13,000. Experts warn of the strain on the island infrastructure, especially the water supply, waste treatment and rubbish disposal. And the soaring number of cruise ship visitors is causing more traffic congestion and environmental pollution while putting a huge strain on energy supplies. Santorini is already one of the most popular for Greek island holidays with around 60,000 tourists beds of which 23,000 are apartments and 12,500 are hotel rooms with the rest taken up by holiday lets. According to the latest figures around 1.3 million-a-year book holidays to Santorini, nearly double the numbers in 2012. Domestic arrivals at the small island airport near Kamari are up nearly 200% since 2009 with passengers complaining of long queues (sometimes up to three hours) and delays in boarding flights, even out of season. New airport owners Fraport-Greece plan to extend the terminal, doubling the floor space and check-in counters to help speed up services. Santorini is not the only tourist hotspot to be troubled by the sharp rise in cruise ship visitors in recent years but, unlike others, appears to be unwilling to do anything about it. Venice, for example, now bans cruise liners above a certain size from berthing near the main canals while authorities on the French Riviera have limited cruise ship arrivals and spread times of day when ships can berth. No such solutions for Santorini so far where cruise ships can arrive all at once and island authorities limiting their actions to managing immediate problems instead of planning for the future.

Azimut ferry Joy
New ferry links for the Ionian

The Ionian islands look set to get a new ferry to link some of the biggest holiday hotspots in Greece. The Ionian chain includes the very popular holiday islands of Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante. Although they attract thousands of UK visitors each year, ferry links between the islands have always been notoriously poor. Now a ferry route to link all the Ionian islands for the first time looks ready to set sail on May 1 and run right through the summer season until the end of October. Shipping Minister Panagiotis Kouroumblis announced the new ferry service at the Regional Development Conference of the Ionian islands. The new sea ferry services will be run by Azimut Joy Cruises with a 30-metre ship that will carry up to 260 passengers. The Minister said: "The linking of the Ionian islands will be a new reality that will put an end to the isolation between islands belonging to the same region". The new ferry will link Corfu with Paxi, Lefkada, Ithaca, Kefalonia and Zakynthos with sailings every day except Sunday. Each week the ferry with travel from Corfu, in the north, to Zante (Zakynthos), in the south, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and back again (Zante to Corfu) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The full journey will take about eight hours, leaving Corfu at 8 am and arriving in Zakynthos about 4 pm. Details of sailing time can be found on the right. It's only in Greek at the moment but those with a basic knowledge of the Greek alphabet will be able to decipher the islands of ΚΕΡΚ"Ρ' ΚΕΡΚΥΡA (CORFU), ΠAΞΟΙ (PAXOS), ΛΕΥΚADA (LEFKADA), ΙΘAΚH (ITHAKA), ΚΕΦAΛΟΝΙA (KEFALONIA) and ZAΚΥΝΘΟS (ZAKYNTHOS) or something similar. Although plenty of ferries call at these islands they are usually heading east-west on routes between the mainlands of Italy and Greece. There are a few local inter-island ferries but these usually just day cruises, have poor connections and irregular sailing times. This is the first ferry to run the whole length of the Ionian islands.  With three passenger and car ferries plus two flying dolphins, Joy Lines, a subsidiary of Joy Cruises, has been operating since 2005 running day cruises and tours from Corfu to Albania. The launch of this new Ionian ferry service could trigger a wave of island hopping tourists who can now sail from island to island.  As the closest Greek islands to the UK, the Ionian islands can be reached in flight times of three hours or so. The Ionian group lies off the west coast of mainland Greece and the are notably greener than other islands thanks to heavy winter rains. Good sandy beaches and shallow seas help to make most islands in the Ionian chain very popular with families. Corfu, Kefalonia, Lefkas and Zante are the best known but the smaller islands of Paxos and Ithaka are also well worth a visit.

hellenic seaplanes
Seaplane test on Corfu

The first seaplane test flights in Greece have been carried out on the Ionian island of Corfu. A 10-seater Quest Zodiac flew from Corfu Town harbour to neighbouring Paxi and other islands in the area. The flights are another critical step in getting regular Greek island seaplane flights off the ground following seven years of setbacks. But the seaplane test flights only show what unsatisfactory progress has been made so far in a project bogged down in Greek red tape and little hope of regular services next year. The seaplane repeatedly took off and landed at the port of Corfu and destinations in nearby islands. The flights were overseen by a consortium of Water Airports SA, K2 Smart Jets and two Japanese companies all hoping to get flights underway for the 2018 tourist season. But business leaders admit it's a been long haul. K2 Smart Jets owner Andreas Karotsieri said: "Our goal is to begin operating flights immediately when the next tourist season starts, but that depends on whether state mechanisms, which are particularly slow, will work at corresponding speeds." Little hope of that as the Greek government continues to limit licences and drag its heels. Rivals, Hellenic Seaplanes SA, has been trying for five years to establish a waterway network top operate seaplane services to the Greek islands. But it is faced with a hall of bureaucratic mirrors. A public consultation on the licensing of waterways ended in September 2016 but has not yet been discussed by the Greek Parliament. Without a legal framework in place, there is little chance of private companies investing in waterway infrastructure which the Greek government now says must be publicly owned. But public investment is at a snail's pace as officials get bogged down in approvals of expenditure, tender processing, policy changes, water and land surveys, risk assessments and ecological surveys. In 2016 the government banned private waterways, despite companies pouring millions of euros into the project. But with an insufficient number of public owned waterways to ensure sustainability for companies and a stable legal framework, seaplane services have little chance of taking off. The Hellenic Seaplanes group has negotiated waterway concessions for many Greek islands including Skyros, Alonissos, Skopelos, Tinos, Patmos, Thassos and Chios. Water Airports SA now has licences to operate seaplane bases in Corfu, Paxi and Patras and want to licence another 34 seaplane bases in the Ionian, Crete, Cyclades, Dodecanese and Saronic Gulf, Immediate plans are to launch regular flights from Corfu next spring, but Hellenic Seaplanes were saying the same last year, and the year before that, and the year before ...

kos seaplanes waterway hellenic
Greek seaplanes drown in red tape

Still drowning in red tape after more than four years, plans to launch seaplane services between the Greek islands remain a pipe dream. It all looked so good on paper; seaplane flights to link the Greek islands, provide fast services and boost tourism. But the scheme first tabled as along ago as 2013 has been bogged down by red tape, government inertia and political wrangling. Laws were passed by the Greek parliament in 2014 to help speed up licences of seaplane services. But the final bill to pave the way for takeoff has been held up in parliament, mainly through disagreement of what services should be in private hands. The Greek state has controlled the ports and harbours of Greece for many years and thoughts of private companies taking a large slice of the inter-island transport market have not gone down well. The rows over the balance of public-private partnership have repeatedly threatened to kill off the project and left seaplane companies waiting in the wings. Many islands have applied for licences and even earmarked areas for landing and take-off zones despite long and onerous licensing procedures that cover everything from health an safety to environmental impact. Recently Greece's southern Aegean region, which includes Rhodes, Kos, Mykonos and Santorini as well as smaller islands such as Tinos, Milos and Karpathos have tried to speed up licensing for six of the 25 seaplane bases earmarked for the islands. Officials want seaplane bases set up on Naxos, Syros, Leros, Kalymnos, Amorgos and Lipsi by 2018. They will not be holding their collective breath. Greece-based Hellenic Seaplanes had hoped to launch Greek island seaplane services back in 2016 but plans have been repeatedly put on hold ever since. Since 2013 the company has spent thousands of euros to promote seaplane services including shelling out cash for court hearings, environmental reports, fees and applications for licenses, even university courses to train potential waterway managers. A Canadian firm tried to launch a seaplane business in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Athens way back in 2004 but was forced to abandon the project blaming Greece's bureaucracy and opaque laws. It's scarcely believable that such an obvious solution to inter-island transport should have taken so long or be so difficult to achieve. Tourism is Greece's only growth industry and there would be no shortage of customers willing to island hop by seaplane to many of the more remote islands, never mind the more popular destinations. Ferries are fine but they are not quick and while the islands with international airports enjoy record levels of tourism, many others miss out on revenue-boosting tourism. Optimistic entrepreneurs were forecasting a network of seaplane bases all over Greece by the end of 2015. Aircraft were ordered, pilots trained and finance plans put in place to cash in. The aim was to link up with leading airline who could then offer single ticket journeys from European cities to remote Greek islands. More than another mode of transport, seaplanes could have given smaller islands a major economic boost. But the ambitious project has suffered many frustrating setbacks despite government officials announcing seaplane services as a scheme of 'national importance'. The seaplane network was expected to breathe new life into remote islands and open them up to tourism. It has so far come to nothing as private backers haemorrhage cash and the Greek government procrastinates.

Samos airport ungrade plan by Fraport
Work starts on 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 Authorityreporting 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.

Paliouri beach on Halkidiki
Heatwave alert for Greek islands

Holiday visitors to the Greek islands can expect even more sunshine than usual as southern Europe remains gripped by a heatwave. Temperatures are projected to stay in the high 30s Celsius well into August, and it will probably feel even warmer thanks to high humidity and a drop in the northern breeze that has so far kept many Greek islands a little less hot. Some regions on the Greek mainland are offering air conditioned public building free of charge to the elderly as they try to cope with soaring temperatures that have topped 40°C in some places. The Greek Meteorological Service has issued a warning of even higher temperatures forecast to hit 41°C in western Greece. The heatwave has triggered weather warnings in 26 European cities with thermometers reaching 47°C in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and other countries Europe. Greece has so far escaped the worst conditions but is likely to become the next victim as the northern winds subside. The Greek Islands are typically cooler than the mainland (but not by much), but tourists have been warned to stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day. The heatwave has already sparked forest fires on some islands with residents evacuated from homes on Kythera, off the southern tip of the Peloponnese as winds fanned the flames. Late July and August traditionally sees a spike in forest fires in Greece and the Greek Islands where high temperatures and lack of rain contribute to tinder box conditions. The highest temperatures on the islands so far have been reported on Rhodes which topped 38°C and the lowest are on the islands of the Sporades, including Skiathos and Skopelos where they could only manage 29°C, Many Greek Islands are expected to record temperatures up to 34° in August but southern Crete and the eastern Aegean islands are expecting much higher temperatures of between 37°C and 38°C. The official definition of a heatwave in Greece is a minimum of three consecutive days when the air temperature hits 36.5°C or above. This year's scorching weather hardly compares to the heatwave of 2007 which saw the thermometer in Athens hit 46°C and forest fires across the country which led to more than 70 deaths.

Seaplane lands near Corfu
Seaplane hopes sink deeper

Ambitious plans to launch seaplane services in the Greek Islands look ready to be sunk, for the 2016 holiday season at least. Hellenic Seaplanes has been trying to get a seaplane network out of deep water since 2013 but has yet to get a flight in the air. The latest setback is a Greek government plan for new laws to place private waterway projects under the control of the state. The move looks likely to put a damper on private investment in the long-awaited project and could lead to companies and private investors pulling their cash out of existing schemes. According to sources, a bill is expected to go before the Greek parliament which will seek to cancel all current private initiatives and to place projects into public-private partnerships. Permits for waterway landing and take-off strips, currently licensed to private companies, would be put in the hands of ports authorities or local municipalities. Hellenic Seaplanes, which had planned to open seaplane routes between scores of Greek islands this year are understandably furious at the development. Company chairman, Nicolas Charalambous described the bill as "unacceptable" and warns it will deter new investment and sink current private waterway projects. "We will take all action necessary and work hard to stop the negative course of action," said Mr Charalambous. Hellenic Seaplanes already has plans in place to launch 15 seaplane services on Skyros, Alonissos, Skopelos, Tinos, Patmos, Thassos, Chios, Psara, Oinousses, Sitia, Amfilochia, Edipsos, Karystos, Halkida, and Kymi. They had hoped to start operating its first hydroplane waterways in Greece this summer after nearly four years of planning and massive investment. This is just the latest in a series of frustrating setbacks for the ambitious project which even the government has called a scheme of 'national importance'. Since 2013 the company has spent thousands of euros in getting seaplane services in the air including cash for court hearings, environmental reports, fees and applications for licenses, even university courses to train potential waterway managers. The seaplane network is expected to breathe new life into remote islands, open opportunities for tourism and strengthening ties between Greek island communities. But there are currently more 50 waterway applications awaiting approval while government inertia leaves Greece's fledgeling waterway network now drowning in red tape. The Greek government changed the law to help speed up the issuing of permits required for the construction of waterways, but officials failed to grant a single license in 2015. Delays have been blamed on the failure to get a proper "legal framework" in place, problems with the granting of environmental licenses and the lethargy among island port authorities to issue permits for flying. Talks about launching a Greek seaplane network began in 2000, but 16 years later not a single public flight has got off the water. Bureaucratic red tape and government bungling were said to blame for the collapse of a similar scheme in 2008 when a Canadian company axed plans to operate seaplane services in the Greek islands.

landing at corfu airport
Greek airports sale gets green light

The sell-off of many of the Greek Islands airports used by UK holidaymakers has been given the green light. The Greek government has finally ratified contracts with a German-Greek consortium to run 14 of its regional and island airports. The airports included in the contracts are on the of Crete, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Mykonos, Mytilini, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zakynthos. They also cover three mainland airports at Thessaloniki, Aktion and Kavala. More than 23 million passengers passed through the airports in 2015 with around 70% flying in for Greek islands holidays. The 2015 figures were a 6% rise on the year before and are fully expected to go even higher this year. Greece agreed a €1.2 billion deal with German airport operator Fraport to take over the management of the facilities earlier this year. The deal is part of a privatisation program aimed at building up the cash-strapped Greek economy and helping to pay off the country's bailout loans. Fraport, along with the Copelouzos Greek energy group, was granted a 40-year lease to run the regional airports which have been state-owned ever since they were built. Under the terms of the deal, the German-led consortium has two years to upgrade and renovate existing airports and four years to develop new buildings and other extensions. UK package holiday firms still don't know if the deal will lead to higher airport charges and an eventual hike in fares to Greek holiday tourists. Supporters day the move will increase airport income, create jobs and boost local island economies as well as providing better facilities and a faster tourist throughput. But the sell-off is not without its critics who complain at the disposal of valuable state assets. On Crete, there were protest demonstrations at the loss of the profitable airport at Chania. Fraport has promised to invest €300 million in improvements to the Greek island airports over the first four years of the deal. "We are convinced that our engagement in Greece will act as a catalyst for the growth of the country's vital tourism sector," said Alexander Zinell, Fraport Greece's CEO in response to the Greek government's ratification of the deal.

Olympic airplane prop air
Island air routes set for 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 .

Dornier Seastar seaplane
Seaplane flights Mark II

Holiday visitors to Corfu may be the first to enjoy seaplane flights to other islands in the Ionian – but don't book tickets just yet. The Greek government is expected to give the go-ahead for the first inter-island seaplane flights early this year. And if licenses are granted in time, Greece's first seaplane network could link the islands of Corfu, Paxos, Zante, Kefalonia, Lefkas and the mainland port at Patra in 2016. But don't make plans just yet. It is not the first time we've heard that Greek Island seaplane service are about to take off. Holidaymakers were assured that seaplane links between the islands would be up and running by the summer of 2015. Currently, the Corfu island waterway is the only one in Greece with an official license to operate seaplane services but, being the only one, has nowhere for planes to fly. Red tape is blamed for delays in issuing licenses for other ports across Greece and the Greek Island despite local authorities being keen to launch seaplane services. A visit to Corfu by Chinese investors hoping to supply new Dornier Seastar seaplanes for the enterprise has reignited interest in the project. Chinese investors have already pumped € 120 million into the development of the Dornier Seastar and are keen to find customers for the seaplane. The Ionian waterway network would be an ideal place to launch the sea flights once the waterways get the green light. But, for seaplane services to become profitable, there will need to be a fully operational network across the whole of Greece, with as many operators as possible offering seaplane flights. Currently, more 50 applications for waterways are awaiting government approval across Greece as a new draft law is drawn up to help speed up the licensing procedure. And a Greek government spokesman called it 'reasonable to believe' that a small waterway network could be operating in the Ionian in the coming months. The company behind the new waterway on Corfu says the aim is to have at least five licensed waterways fully operation in the Ionian this year. A waterway in the nearby mainland port of Patra is vital to seaplane operations in the wider region of Western Greece, and officials are confident it will get an operational seaplane licence in the next few weeks. Waterways on the Ionian islands of Kefalonia, Zante, and Lefkas could get operational licenses within the next three months. But this is not the first time that the public has been assured of seaplane services up and running in time for the lucrative tourist season Getting Greek Islands seaplane flights off the ground has been a long haul, with talk of a waterway network as long ago as 2000. A Canadian company pulled out of plans for seaplane flights in 2008, complaining of endless Greek bureaucracy, belligerent unions and mountains of red tape. Despite laws being passed in 2013 to help speed up development of seaplane waterways, by 2016 the Greek government had granted only a single licence – the one to Corfu. Waterway licenses are in the pipeline for islands such as Alonissos, Patmos, Paxos, Crete, Skopelos, Skyros, Tinos and Zante, but authorities will give no firm date for approval. Ministry officials blame the delays on to the current legal framework and the time it takes to get environmental approval for many of the waterway schemes. Hellenic Seaplanes, had hoped to start seaplane flights in 2014 and had plans to operate from 112 waterways by this year. To date, the only take-offs have been for test flights and no firm date has yet been set for any seaplane service anywhere in Greece or the Greek Islands.

cruise ship costa fascino corfu
Greece cruises into 2016

Cruise ships are still sailing into Greek ports despite some islands suffering heavily from the refugee crisis. Latest figures show a 12% rise in curse she arrivals in ports across Greece and the Greek islands in 2015. Greece is gradually turning into one of the most popular cruise destinations in the Mediterranean with the outlook for 2016 appearing positive despite the refugee problem on many islands. The Hellenic Ports Association) reports ship arrivals in Greece up from 3,826 in 2014 to 4,279 in 2015. And travel agents do not appear to have been put off by stories of some islands being 'swamped' by refugees. Increased cruise ship arrivals were reported at Rhodes and Chios with no effect on Lesvos and just a small fall for Kos. The number of cruise passengers to Greek island ports pushed past the half million mark making Greece the third most popular cruise travel destination in the Mediterranean. Greek ports posting the highest number of cruise ship arrivals are Piraeus, Santorini, Mykonos, Corfu, Katakolon, Rhodes, Kefalonia, Patmos and the Crete ports of Heraklion and Chania. The growing refugee crisis is having its effects felt internally however as Greece comes under fire for its poor management of the problem. The Greek government has pledged to send in extra staff to help at screening centres on the worst affected islands and to build two relocation camps on the mainland, Five special screening centres will be set up on the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Kos and Leros to handle the ever-growing number of refugees entering Europe through Greece. The government will also convert two former military camps on the mainland as into relocation centres to house 4,000 refugees each. Island officials, however, fear that the latest moves could attract even more refugees to islands already struggling with high numbers. Greece has been seen as the gateway into Europe for refugees fleeing from Syria through Turkey, with more than a million passing through in 2015 and rising numbers this year.

greece rental car hire
Greek hire cars to get older

Your rental car in Greece could be a few years older thanks to a recent decision to extend the life of hire cars. Under previous laws, Greek car rental outfits were legally obliged to renew any vehicle more than nine years old. An update to the regulations means that car rental firms can hang on to hire cars for 12 years before renewing them. The move has not met with approval from the Greek Car Rental Companies Association (STEEA) which wants cars replaced every seven years. The claim that high mileage and rough use on Greek roads takes its toll on hire cars, especially those rented by tourists. Visitors to Greece might be surprised to learn that their hire car should not be more than nine years old. Many Greek car hire firms regularly flout the regulations and hang onto rental cars as long as the possibly can, a practice readily admitted by STEEA. The Association warns that new rules will lead to even more violations and older hire cars on Greek island roads. And it comes at a time when the Greek government is trying to upgrade tourism generally and attract more affluent visitors. Many holiday visitors prefer to book ahead by hiring a Greek holiday car online. That's fine for visitors on since island holidays, but those who enjoy island hopping may be hampered by restrictions on taking hire cars on ferries. There are car rental firms that will allow you to take a car to another island, but the practice is not encouraged, and some even ban it outright. You can understand their position when they sometimes have to retrieve cars from distant islands, especially out of season when ferries can be delayed by bad weather. Booking your car hire in Greece has other advantages too. Greek car hire firms are much more prepared to haggle over the price. There are some great car hire deals to be found, especially out of season, and you can also rent for a day or two, then maybe a day to two later in your holiday to help cut the costs of hiring for a whole week. Whichever method you choose for Greek car hire remember that you must be at least 21 years old, although the age may vary by car category, and to have held a license for at least a year. Drivers under 25 may have to pay a young driver surcharge, and some firms won't lend you a hire car if you are over 70. When driving in Greece always carry your driving licence, proof of insurance, some ID such as your passport, and your car hire papers or proof of car ownership. Hefty on-the-spot fines can also be issued for failing to carry a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. Motorcyclists, scooter riders and their passengers must all wear crash helmets. Although locals never seem to bother on some Greek islands, don't assume that the laws will not be enforced for tourists. Also, never drink and drive. There are police spot checks of hire cars, and fines can be hefty. Also, remember that seat belts are compulsory and children under ten years old must sit in the back of a hire car in Greece.

hellenic seaplanes corfu
Greek seaplanes drown in red tape

Plans to launch a Greek Island seaplane service in 2016 appears to be drowning in red tape and it's not the first time that a scheme to link the islands with seaplane service has failed to get off the ground. Despite laws being passed in 2013 to help speed up development of seaplane waterways, the Greek government failed to grant a single licence in 2015. The Ionian island of Corfu is the only one to currently hold a license to operate seaplane flight but, as yet, its planes have nowhere to land. The Greek Ministry of Transport says applications for waterway licences are in the pipeline for Agia Marina, Alonissos, Amfilochia, Grammatiko, Lavrio, Patmos, Patra, Paxos, Rethymnon, Skopelos, Skyros, Thessaloniki, Tinos Volos and Zante. But no one has any idea when they are likely to be granted, and no one is holding his breath. According to Ministry officials, the latest delays are due to the "current legal framework" not being in place. Another major hold-up is the failure to grant environmental licenses to any of the ongoing projects. It's a bit of a sorry mess. Seaplane services to many Greek islands were touted to get in the air by 2015. The chief operator, Hellenic Seaplanes, was to start the first flights more than a year ago and had plans to operate from 112 waterways by this year. The company recently said that it hopes to launch its first hydroplane flights this summer to link the Sporades islands with Volos and Thessaloniki, but I wouldn't book a ticket just yet. Talks about launching a Greek seaplane network began in 2000 with speedier access to island boosting local economies. Sixteen years later and a seaplane is yet to fly on an inter-island network thanks mainly say some to a lack of organisation and a proper legal framework. By common agreement seaplane service would bring a welcome boost to tourism on many of the more remote Greek islands. Bureaucratic red tape was to blame for the collapse of a similar scheme in 2008. A Canadian company accused the Greek government of excessive bureaucratic red tape.

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