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Greek airports sell-off under review

- by Andy Cornish

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.