|European Coastal Airlines expanding network and fleet|
Croatian-based European Coastal Airlines (ECA), Europe’s only scheduled seaplane service, plans to add flights to Italy and Montenegro next year as it continues to expand its fleet and destination network. Less than a year following its launch, ECA has become a success story with the airline estimated to handle some 221.000 passengers this year, which would make it the fifth busiest airline registered in the former Yugoslavia. The carrier’s three-member fleet can land both on ground and water. With a capacity of nineteen seats, they fly to a handful of destinations across Croatia. By 2016, a further four aircraft will join the fleet and international flights are expected to be launched, including Montenegro and Italy. However, services to the Italian coast, primarily Ancona, are unlikely to be introduced prior to Croatia’s entry into the Schengen Area, expected in late 2016.
ECA plans to expand its destination network and workforce as early as this year. New flights from Novalja, a town on the island of Pag, on Croatia’s central coast, will launch from June 1. They will complement existing services between Zagreb, Split, Pula, Rijeka, Jelsa and Rab. “If we add all our planned destinations, we anticipate having some 400 employees”, ECA says. The airline will invest a further twenty million euros in its operations in the coming period. CEO Klaus Dieter Martin, says, “Currently, we are updating our present fleet and welcoming new seaplanes to it, establishing Europe's first seaplane airline with scheduled flights, changing approaches to business and improving sales”. The carrier is also developing a fleet of "floating airports" fitted with restaurants, bars and shops.
Despite its success, the airline has had to deal with significant bureaucracy over the past several years. Thomas Kuhmann, a Munich financier who invested 750.0000 in ECA, says, "The maritime ministry and the aviation board came up with endless objections. When Martin [CEO] produced pictures from 1927 showing postal seaplanes moored in front of Diocletian's Palace in Split, suddenly headwinds became tailwinds". Part of ECA’s success is its customer base. Tourism accounts for less than 50% of business, allowing the airline to operate flights throughout the winter months as well. "For Croat islanders, we are the quickest way to the mainland”, Mr. Kuhmann concludes.