Overdue face-lift for Thessaloniki airport

With 8 million passengers a year, a runway into the Thermaic Gulf, a new, ultramodern passenger terminal, and a state-of-the-art security system, Macedonia Airport at Thessaloniki is getting ready for a brighter future. By 2006, the airport will have shed its provincial image and will be ready to live up to its role as a major hub in northern Greece and Southeastern Europe, say officials of the Transport Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority (YPA). The works for expanding and upgrading the second largest airport in the land are already in progress, providing work for 200-300 people and with the rumble of planes accompanied by the roar of large excavating machinery leveling the ground for a 2,440-meter-long runway. Renovation The works in progress mark the start of those along the length and width of the present airport, and are due to be completed in five years’ time. They are expected to change the face of the area. The two biggest projects, which will absorb the largest amount of funding from 2003-2006, are the extension of one runway into the sea and the construction of a new terminal behind the current police station on the Thessaloniki side. Twenty-six and a half hectares will be expropriated from a nearby plot of land which is owned by the University of Thessaloniki. An earlier eastern extension to the terminal means that today it covers 22,000 square meters. A western extension will increase that area to 35,000 square meters, but the new airport terminal will cover 80,000 square meters. One of the runways will be extended by 1,000 meters and will run over the sea for 600 of those meters. It is the first such work in Greece, and the completion of this runway, with a total length of 3,440 meters and a width of 60 meters, will allow jumbo jets transatlantic flights, something not possible on the present runways. Large planes cannot carry a full load of passengers, baggage and fuel. At the same time, Macedonia Airport will develop into a traffic hub for the region. Today, it already has regular flights by 23 airlines to 20 different countries, with charter flights bringing the number up to 73. Until 2020 The country’s second largest airport has often found itself the target of criticism. Fog, which results in flight cancellations and the stranding of thousands of passengers every year, and caused the Yakovlev crash in 1997, the Mali plane crash and the Peraia radar controversy are some of the incidents which have raised questions over the facilities with which a a modern airport should be equipped. The Transport Ministry’s integrated development scheme aims to give the airport greater capacity so that it can meet the city’s needs at least until 2020, while, according to YPA, it should acquire a final capacity of 16 million passengers a year. Before a final decision was made in 1996 that the airport should stay where it is at Mikra, alternative locations were examined, including the possibility of moving the airport to Kalochorio in western Thessaloniki. But the time-consuming process of expropriation, building new access roads and so forth weighed against a move while, according to Giorgos Souladakis, the deputy director of YPA, Here, where the airport is, there is no problem of capacity, and it will be able to handle any amount of traffic in the future. While 2006 does not seem far off (by Greek standards), officials at the Transport Ministry and the Ministry of Public Works note that: – Most of the works, 14 in total, will have been finished by 2003, including the side runway and the western extension to the current air terminal, while the marine runway (10/28) extension and the new air terminal, budgeted at 75 and 100 billion drachmas respectively, will have been completed by 2006. The works as a whole are expected to come to 220 billion drachmas. -The 84 billion for the runway extension and the parallel roadway have been approved by the 3rd Community Support Framework, while the rest of the money is expected to come from the special airport tax, also known as the spatosimo. -The upgraded airport will be able to handle 3,600 passengers an hour, will have 14 concertina-type boarding ramps, over 55 berths for planes with both air terminals in operation, 100 check-in points and shops and a commercial center. There are plans for a metro station and access from the sea. -The baggage check system will be among the most up-to-date, with the possibility of changing the direction of a suspect suitcase on the conveyor belt so that it ends up where it can be subjected to even more thorough checks. Radical changes to traffic flow in the Salonica area The expansion of Macedonia Airport will bring about radical changes to the area. The Fanaria, a well-known junction in Thessaloniki, will now be linked to the National Road from Thessaloniki to Nea Moudiana (a work being put out to tender, budgeted at 5.5 billion drachmas). The Thessaloniki-Peraia Road will be widened from the Finikas area to the airport, while part of the road will run underground, beginning from the site of the F-5 military plane crash in 1999. The road leading to the airport will be widened. At the same time, a survey is being carried out on the Air Traffic Control Center, a major work which will put Thessaloniki third after Maastricht and Vienna in terms of air traffic control in the surrounding region. A three-level, semi-underground car park will be constructed – with a total of 3,600 parking spaces – whose roof will form a park together with a hotel with 70 rooms, according to the initial projections. Improved facilities and new business opportunities Thessaloniki will not only gain an ultramodern, attractive and competitive airport, said YPA Deputy Director Giorgos Souladakis, but the new airport will offer new business opportunities through construction and business concessions to private investors for the car park, airplane repair facilities, hotel units, fuel, catering and the commercial sections. Already, according to data published by the Central Macedonia Region, 20 billion drachmas’ worth of works have already been carried out. The existing air terminal has been upgraded and improved in terms of its functionality and aesthetics, its eastern extension has been constructed, an anti-skid surface has been put on runway 16/34, the landing lights, some of which are over the sea, have been upgraded and a landing system enabling airplanes to land in difficult visibility is near completion. In addition, a radar tower has been constructed at Peraia. Contracts have been signed for the construction of the side runway and the western extension to the airport terminal, while works to join up central sections of the air terminal for the cargo terminal and the extension to runway 10/28 are either in the process of being put out to tender or have already been assigned. ‘Flying blind’ is now a possibility The long saga of the installation and operation of an instrument landing system (ILS) at Thessaloniki airport is expected to come to an end within the next two months, though problems caused by fog will not disappear entirely. An improvement of 70-80 percent is estimated by the authorities of Macedonia Airport, which will then conform more or less to international standards. Over the past seven years, some 400 flights have been canceled due to fog. The radar facilities at Peraia began operations a year ago, increasing plane handling capacity from 25 to 35 an hour, according to Souladakis. The category I ILS system has been in commercial use since September 6 on runway 10/28, while the ILS on runway 16/34 has been upgraded to category II. What that means in practice is that an airplane can descend to 70 meters (200 feet) from the ground with ILS I and to 30 meters (100 feet) with ILS II. ILS II requires two months’ advance notice of the new procedures, during which staff will be trained in its use and final checks will be carried out. The airlines also have to have pilots trained in the new system and have been informed of its use accordingly. Aviation authorities estimate that ILS II will be in service by the end of this month at the latest.

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