A seaplane venture

Ever wished you could skip the choppy, hours-long ferry trip to a remote Aegean paradise island and hop on a 30-minute seaplane flight instead? A Greece-born Canadian entrepreneur has banked on exactly that desire to tap a potential 300-million-euro ($361 million) market and perhaps take business from local ferries and Greek airlines such as Olympic and Aegean. «Seaplanes are here to stay in a country made for this kind of transportation and the business opportunities are endless,» AirSea Lines President Michael Patellis told Reuters yesterday. «This can be a 300-million-euro market with 30-40 million in profits within five years.» The only operator of passenger seaplanes in Greece, Patellis welcomed a decision signed this week by the Greek transport and merchant marine ministers giving the green light for an expansion of flights. His company, known in Greece as Pegasus Aviation and backed by investors including a Canadian company called Harbour Air Ltd, an operator of seaplanes in Vancouver, has already started a service between the western city of Ioannina and the Ionian islands of Corfu and Paxi. Another six destinations, including the major city of Patras and the isles of Cephalonia and Zakynthos will be added by mid-January and Patellis said he hoped to be able to list his company, probably on the London Stock Exchange, in a few years. Greece, with many of its 2,500 islands inhabited and with about 90 percent of the population living within 20 kilometers of the sea, could be ideal for a project Patellis wants to take to other countries. Bad ferry service Having started with two 19-passenger Twin Otter planes, made by Canada’s de Havilland and adapted to take off and land on water, Patellis said he plans to expand to 50 planes by 2010. For decades, islanders and tourists have been complaining of a lack of ferry routes, keeping popular summer destinations isolated in the winter months. Ferry operators, including major companies such as Minoan Lines, Blue Star Ferries and Anek Lines, often agree to dock at smaller commercially unattractive isles when winning state-issued rights for main Aegean routes. Troubled state carrier Olympic Airlines, in the process of being relaunched, is the only carrier willing to take on state-funded flights to remote islands. Any potential private investor in Olympic would gladly take those money-losing routes off the schedule, analysts say. Patellis said his company is flooded by phone calls from island mayors wanting to hook up to its flight schedules. Originally from the remote island of Kalymnos, Patellis got the idea after seeing the busy flight schedule of seaplanes in Vancouver. «So I asked myself, ‘Why not do it in Greece?’ There cannot be a more appropriate location in Europe and we are optimistic this service will grow and grow,» he said. By next summer, he will add flights from Greece to the southern Italian destinations of Bari, Otranto and Brindisi. «So you can go on a weekend to Italy at the price of a first-class ferry ticket in a fraction of the time you need with a ship,» he said.