Europe's first modern scheduled seaplane service, Croatia’s European Coastal Airlines (ECA), will resume flights in 2017 and expand its network after it was forced to suspend all operations in October of last year as a result of "administrative issues" and an "untrustworthy business environment". Prior to discontinuing services, the carrier was grounded for several weeks by the Croatian Civil Aviation Agency following reports of alleged poor maintenance. The CEO of the German-backed company, Klaus Dieter Martin, said, "The suspension occurred in the middle of the summer season. ECA knew that the move was uncalled for, which is why we hired several independent professionals to analyse the situation. All of them came to the same conclusion, that there was no foundation for the airline's grounding". ECA has filed two cases against the state with the courts for its responsibility over the service suspension.
According to the company's CEO, ECA will resume operations this summer and expand its fleet. "We plan to add three more aircraft for a total of seven operational hydroplanes. All of the destinations previously served will be resumed and we will add new routes from Mali Lošinj to both Trieste and Ancona. In 2018 we will link Mali Lošinj with Venice, as well as Dubrovnik with Bari and Brindisi. Those are just some of our upcoming plans". He added, "Unfortunately, up to this point, we have only implemented 25% of our business and development plans due to difficult and complicated concession talks. It took us between four to five years to strike agreements over the construction of certain seaports (water terminals)".
Following a fourteen-year battle with bureaucracy, ECA launched operations in 2014, connecting major cities and islands along the Croatian coast. In 2016 it commenced international flights. A part of its fleet has the ability to land on both water and paved runways, proving a lifeline for several smaller airports with little or no traffic. The company has invested some 22 million euros in infrastructure development in Croatia, including the construction of eleven seaports. ECA has received strong support from the German government and the German Embassy in Croatia, but has struggled with local policy-makers. The company has allegedly been asked for bribes by local authorities on a number of occasions in return for necessary permits. The airline recently let go of 140 employees as a result of its grounding but is hopeful to hire local staff in the coming months in order to prepare for its service resumption.