Investments in Greece? What a brilliant joke!

Article published on Nov. 4, 2010
community published
Article published on Nov. 4, 2010
Ilias Lappas What follows is a justification of article’s title by reviewing the story of a brilliant idea and the relevant investment that took place in Greece some years ago, the idea of using seaplanes to set up a network for connecting the greek islands with the mainland.

Seaplanes were introduced in Greece by Mr Michalis Patelis (Greek, born in Canada) who established the airline ‘Air Sea Lines’, an investment of approximately 20 million euros.

Air Sea Lines introduced new trends in the greek aviation and soon took a significant share of the market. In the meantime the idea was highly appreciated by the citizens of the remote islands that were served by the airline’s flight schedule.

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Till the end of 2004 no regulatory framework existed for the operation of seaplane bases, neither any relevant regulation to coordinate the competences of the relevant Greek authorities. The first regulatory framework for seaplane bases was the Law 3333/2005, while at the same year a joint ministerial decision was issued, setting a limit of three flights per day, per destination.

The above mentioned Law needed a Presidential Decree in order to settle some significant and specific details concerning, for example, the overall flight schedule management, the approval for charter flights, the usage of seaplanes to carry patients, etch., to be clarified. The said Presidential Decree, in accordance Law 3333/2005, had to be issued just six months after the respective issue of the Law.

Due to the famous (!!!) greek bureaucracy and to some objections that were raised by the relevant Greek authorities (Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and Ministry of Shipping) the Presidential Decree was being drafted for …four years(!!!)

In October 2008, Mr Patelis sent an official letter to the journalist that dealt with the daily news of Ministry of Transport, which was written in a crystal clear manner:

‘The last four years we are facing numerous problems because of the bureaucracy and the company is approaching its limits. Moreover, the unexpected delay in operating a new seaplane base in Athens makes things worst and, as a result, the overall cost is rising which leads in reducing our staff and generally in a position of not being a viable company.’

Contrary to the existing problems, the company managed to execute, only in summer of 2008 and with a fleet of three seaplanes, 1850 flights, carrying 13100 passengers! On the other hand, the facts of not flying in Aegean Sea destinations and the lack of a seaplane base in Athens (the company was interested in operating in a new seaplane base in Faliro Bay) finally led the company to a non viable situation.

The usage of seaplanes in Greece stimulated also the relevant authorities of EU with Commissioner Danuta Hübner replying to Dimitris Papadimoulis (Greek, member of European Parliament) that ‘Commission is not officially informed for the greek effort of setting up the seaplane network’. Mr Papadimoulis asked if there is any amount of money reserved by the Commission for supporting the construction of the seaplane bases in Greece.

Finally, in 2009 Mr Patelis’s seaplanes took off the greek sea, but this time for their last time…Nowadays in Greece exists only one airline that operates seaplanes, the ‘Argo Airways’, based in the port of Volos (Thessaly). Argo Airways connects the city of Volos with Athens, Thessaloniki and the islands Skiathos, Skopelos and Alonnisos.

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Since January 2010, the Ministry of Transports is trying to solve the above mentioned problems and, as the minister said, the main target of the effort is to set up the necessary framework in order the licensing of a brand new seaplane base to need just 70 days to be accomplished.

For that reason, the drafting (!!!) of the, now famous, Presidential Decree has started again and has been subjected to public consultation till 15th of April 2010. Right after that deadline, the task of coordinating the relevant Greek authorities and drafting the final issue of the Decree was assigned to an experts committee. The drafting of the final issue is pending till now and, as the minister said, ‘there are a lot of authorities that have to be coordinated and this causes an acceptable delay in the overall effort’.

I hope that the key persons within the Ministry of Transport have realized that the surrounding business environment has changed significantly, especially from the day that Greece faced the financial crisis. Hence, whatever that delays the progress of innovative ideas increases the risk of investing money on that idea, it is as simple as that!!!

Moreover, it is not the Presidential Decree that is going, out of the blue, to solve the existing problems and encourage the investments! A lot of money will be invested simply by enhancing the feeling of trust between government and investors.

At this time, a dynamic approach is expected by the Ministry of Transport, to persuade the investors that Greece and its government now strive to become reliable and fair players, something that will also be reflected in the regulatory framework, whenever comes out of the legislative procedure.

PS. It is not a bad idea that a key decision maker who stands high in the greek government’s hierarchy to give a call to Mr Patelis, just to discuss a possible return of the seaplanes, though I am sure that Mr Patelis will be really concerned on that idea!!!