Air transport should operate in a framework of free competition, on equal terms for all and free from protectionist policies, said the heads of the tourism industry association yesterday. They met with Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis to discuss tourism issues that also concern the Transport Ministry. The board of the Hellenic Association of Tourism and Travel Agents (HATTA) said that the policy of airlines should at least move toward the development of regional airports and the attraction of new air companies to this country, whose tourism is roughly 80 percent dependent on air transport. In a memorandum submitted by HATTA to the minister, the association makes special reference to issues such as the liberalization of ground handling services, landing levies, the monopoly of coach companies (KTEL) and cars for rent. Regarding the beleaguered national carrier, HATTA stresses that the policies of protection applied by all Greek governments in the last 50 years have prevented the country from increasing its air traffic. These problematic protectionist policies have taken Greece off the routes of certain companies, preventing or ending the air connection of Greece with destinations to which Olympic Airlines cannot fly. As for the development of regional airports, HATTA argues that any project under consideration should take into account the special zoning plan for tourism. This plan will highlight those areas with significant tourism development potential and give priority to them. Until the plan is ready, immediate action should be taken for the enhancement of airport infrastructure in the already rapidly developing western Peloponnese as well as the almost saturated, in terms of air traffic, island of Crete. The project involving Kastelli airport in western Crete is expected to be implemented by the Transport Ministry in eight to 10 years, which in practice means 10-15 years. According to HATTA, unless there are some immediate and substantial interventions in this period at the airport of Iraklion, it is clear that the tourism competitiveness of Crete will be reduced and there will be little reason for new tourism investment on the island.