Hopes of second chance for hydroplanes in Greece

Seven years after the first attempt to introduce seaplane services in Greece — seen back then as a promising investment that would offer passengers an alternative mode of transport to the islands — it appears that sea-borne aircraft will soon get a second chance in this country.

In a recent meeting with Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, the Canadian ambassador in Athens, Robert Peck, expressed interest in the issue, asking for the immediate processing of legislative moves that would allow for hydroplanes to return to service in Greece.

It was a Canadian company, AirSea Lines, that was behind the original effort back in 2005, before abandoning it for good in the summer of 2009.

AirSea Lines mostly flew to destinations in the Ionian Sea, linking the islands there with Patra, Ioannina and Volos on the Greek mainland as well as Brindisi in Italy. Headed by Greek-Canadian Michalis Patelis, the company received promises from the leadership at the Transport Ministry that sea runways would be created and that the necessary legislation would be drawn up, but he also faced the legal wrath of Olympic Airlines, which back then belonged to the state.

In the summer of 2009, Olympic launched an injunction demanding that the seaplane services to Paros and Kalymnos be suspended, citing the state-subsidized air service the conventional airline performed to the two Aegean islands.

Hydroplane flights in the Aegean began on May 16, 2009, and were stopped in August that year. AirSea Lines attributed the termination of services to the lack of sea runways, delays in receiving more aircraft and serious problems in the use of ground airports for aircraft maintenance.

According to an AirSea Lines representative, the fact that hydroplanes had to use ground airports for maintenance resulted in problems for the company?s timetables due to the airports? limited operating hours, illustrating the bureaucratic problems that led to the failure of the effort.

The company also failed to obtain a hub in Attica, as the concession of a part of Lavrio port in southeastern Attica proved insufficient for AirSea Lines: Access was pricey and time-consuming for passengers, while strong winds in the summer created serious flight safety issues. Plans for the creation of a hub between Palaio Faliro and Neo Faliro never got off the ground.

At the same time, pledges by the competent ministers, Michalis Liapis (transport) and Manolis Kefaloyiannis (merchant marine), for the licensing of water airstrips at several islands around the country along with subsidies for hydroplane flights to remote islands created huge hopes that were soon dashed.

The fact that the Greek business environment proved so unfriendly to the investor was what forced the Canadian ambassador last week to demand immediate action by the development minister before any investment plan is submitted.

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