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Greek Island seaplane plans drown in red tape

- by Andy Cornish

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.