Greek Airports Struggle to Handle Tourism Volume Traffic

FILE - Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Spata, near Athens. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yiannis Panagopoulos)

ATHENS – With some 32 million tourists expected in Greece this year, breaking a record yet again, the country’s airports are trying to cope with the overwhelming numbers, helped by the privatization of 14 regional airports that the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA wanted to stop.

Officials are calling for more air traffic controllers to keep up with hordes of people wanting to visit the country, especially during the summer, and Athens becoming a top destination along with the islands.

In 2014, the Greece’s Civil Aviation Authority (YPA) was asked to hire an additional 70 air traffic controllers but only 32 were added through 2017 and unions told Kathimerini that workers are being transferred between airports to keep up with the demand while others are being trained.

Air passenger traffic in Greece has increased by 45 percent over the past four and in May was at levels matching mid-August figures in previous years, some 3,500 flights daily, with people coming earlier and staying later, even through October. Air traffic volume in the first weekend of May was at the same level as it was in mid-August 2017 and the busiest airports then were the international airport in Athens but also at Iraklio, Rhodes, Thessaloniki and Hania on Crete, an especially population destination.

European and global institutional lenders, which provided financing of up to one billion euros ($1.17 billion) in long-term credit used by a Fraport-led consortium to fund a tender for a 40-year concession of 14 regional airports around Greece, are said to be delighted with their operations despite criticism from a SYRIZA minister who wasn’t.

Passenger traffic at the regional airports showed a big jump in passenger traffic for 2017, reaching 10.9 percent, or 4.36 million with Santorini, Kos and Kefalonia posting double-digit gains.

The trend continued in the first half of 2018, where passenger traffic exceeded 10.62 million, up by 11 from the previous year and as a 90-million euro ($105.24 million) renovation of Thessaloniki’s Macedonia Airport is being planned.