Seaplanes seek to simplify Greek island-hopping

Greece’s only seaplane operator promises tourists cheaper and faster access to remote islands as well as a nostalgic feel of the pioneering days of air travel. However, regulatory and safety issues have meant that AirSea Lines has endured a bumpy ride since its launch last year. The Canadian-led company had to stop flying its two Twin Otter DHC-6 planes, which can carry up to 19 passengers each, to meet new safety standards just two months after acquiring routes serving the popular Aegean island market. «In Greece, when you fly you are considered a plane and when you land you are a vessel,» Michael Assariotis, the company’s sales and marketing manager, said this week. «We built the whole regulatory framework from scratch as it did not exist before,» Assariotis said. Greece’s flourishing tourism industry and over 250 inhabited islands, many of them top tourist destinations, offer a huge opportunity to anyone starting a seaplane link to the mainland. Seaplanes can fly to places with no airport infrastructure and where ferries do not travel due to high costs, cutting down travel time to a fraction. An eight-hour ferry voyage to the island of Ios from the port of Piraeus near Athens, for example, is only a 40-minute flight by seaplane and a lot less rocky, Assariotis said. But AirSea Lines has faced a series of obstacles. Opposition from ferry operators who saw AirSea Lines as cutting into their Aegean business, a legal battle with state carrier Olympic Airlines over subsidized routes and getting permission to land on water were some of the problems. The head of Greece’s union of coastal shipping enterprises said some members had reservations about the introduction of seaplanes but said ultimately it was good for the islands. «We have to see this as Greeks and I see this as something very positive. Especially as they fly from island to island,» union president Michael Sakellis, who is also CEO of Blue Star Ferries, told Reuters. «We cannot say we only want ships and no planes.» Seaplane services have recently sprung up in Italy, Malta and Scotland, pointing toward a revival in Europe of a form of travel popular among the wealthy before World War Two. «Seaplanes bring back the simplicity of flying, they bring back the golden age of aviation,» Assariotis said. (Reuters)