Dalmatia-based seaplane operator European Coastal Airlines (ECA), founded in 2000, started operations out of Split in the summer of 2014. The company’s ultimate goal is to connect all 66 inhabited islands in Croatia’s Adriatic Sea as well as at a later stage expand operations abroad. The project is a multi-million euro investment and will create around 400 new jobs in Croatia. ECA aims to simplify the life of Croatian islanders as well as revolutionize transportation in the country by offering safe, reliable and affordable seaplane connections.
Hydro planes and island-hopping in Croatia, it sounds perfect! How is the famous Croatian bureaucracy reacting to your plans?
Starting the first seaplane operation in Southeast Europe was not an easy task. The toughest part for us has been to figure out the persons and authorities who are actually in charge of the infrastructure development we had in mind.
Once we got to know the authorities in charge for one destination, we thought it might get easier for the next one – way off the mark! Every location has its own regulations and restrictions to which we needed to pay individual attention. Our biggest journey and challenge was to bring the people together who can move this project forward.
How will people book, and how would a transfer from, for example, the Split airport to Hvar Town work? Take us through the experience of the arriving traveller.
The arriving traveller has either booked his flight with us already online via ec-air.eu or will simply walk into our ticket office at Split airport – from there we are shuttling our passengers by bus 500 meters to our seaside terminal. A ten-minute flight and you are in Hvar. Counting getting a ticket, luggage handling, etc., the entire procedure from Split airport to Hvar will hardly take you more than 20-30 minutes. Basically by literally not spending a cent more than a combination of taxi and ferry fares from Split Airport to Hvar, you cut down your transfer time easily by 4-5 hours.
By 2015 we will connect our booking system to Amadeus, meaning customers will be able to book a Shanghai-Hvar flight in one go.
Croatian island-hopping is a popular plan for visitors to Dalmatia, but ferry schedules do not make this easy, even in season. What can you offer travellers who want to see Split, Dubrovnik, Hvar, Korcula and Vis in a one-week visit, for example?
First of all – we will make island-hopping as easy as it can get. One will find a short connection accessible quickly, not only from the main cities on the shore, but as well connections from island to island. Daily island-hopping will actually be made possible year-around – a definite no-go in the current state with the ferry schedule.
And we are giving the travellers back what they value the most during their vacation – free time. No one can compete with our short flying times: Split-Korcula in 22 minutes, Split airport-Hvar in 10 minutes, etc.
You intend to fly in the winter months as well, in contrast to most airlines servicing Split. Tell us more about that.
Our idea is to introduce seaplane operations to Croatia for Croatians. Our main focus is on the people living on the islands and making it easier for them to move around. By doing so we are creating a network which can help in medical emergencies, rescue flights, postal services and so on.
Our entire project is developed to operate all year around, we are creating sustainable jobs on the islands, being part of responsible business programs and focusing on the environment too.
Do you see potential to add further points to your destination map, including in neighboring countries?
In the first phase of our project we are looking into developing Croatia and already in a couple of weeks the first international flight to Ancona airport will be launched. We will extensively grow and connect Italy next year and are already looking into possibilities in Montenegro. The future of seaplane operations in Europe is bright.
What has been the market response to the launch of your commercial services? Do you see room on the Croatian market for multiple seaplane operators?
We have been operating since August 27 and are connecting the Split airport – from a seaside location – with Jelsa on Hvar island four times daily. Currently we have a daily load factor of minimun 60%. Plenty of flights are fully booked already. Good ideas give room for competition, which is perfectly fine with us. It can only make us better – and moreover increase the quality of a passenger experience. I am looking forward to welcome competition on one of our seaports.