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Greek seaplane services grounded

- by Andy Cornish

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.