Happy Birthday ECA: Interview with Seaplane CEO Captain Klaus Dieter Martin

By 26 August 2015

It is a year since the first scheduled seaplane flight in modern European aviation history, from Resnik near Split Airport to Jelsa on Hvar on August 27, 2014. TCN caught up with European Coastal Airlines CEO Captain Klaus Dieter Martin to find out how the last twelve months were, as well as plans for the future. 

1.After 14 years of battling bureaucracy, you finally started operational flights a year ago. How would you summarise the progress made in the last year?

Although I believe 15 years is too long for the realization of a project, I am glad that we never gave up. If it was easy, everyone would be doing this!

We transported more than 17,000 passengers on routes that we have had in operation.

I am very pleased that after a year since the first commercial flight, we now have six certified airports at sea: Resnik, Hvar, Rab, Pula,Split and Lastovo. Very soon, we will open both Vela Luka and Novalja.

Despite this growth in the past year, I believe that development is not going at the speed at which this project deserves. We are now at the stage where we are receiving calls from representatives from different cities and islands with great interest and requests to come in their locations. This is as it should be. People need to recognize the value that we bring.

(Approaching the island of Lastovo, now just 22 minutes from downtown Split)

2. Almost a year after opening the Resnik and Jelsa stations, you finally added new destinations in Dalmatia - Lastovo and downtown Split - a couple of weeks ago. How important is downtown Split to the ECA network?

The value and importance of Split as the largest city on the coast and the second largest city in Croatia is undeniable. As the urban, cultural and transport center of Dalmatia, Split deserves to enhance its appeal by offering the rich, modern,sexy transport that European Coastal Airlines provides.

(Downtown Split was finally connected in the summer of 2015)

Connecting the Dalmatian islands with Resnik only would not make sense for our overall business model. Our passengers are not only foreign tourists and we strive to provide comprehensive services to locals as well. We offer flights year-round, both for foreign travelers as well as for local residents.

With ECA, Lastovo can be reached in 20 minutes from Split for only 35 euros. The vast majority of our employees have never been on the beautiful island of Lastovo, just like their fellow citizens. Consideration should be brought to how much the island can benefit if there are two to three such flights a day. This will certainly open the possibilities for the revitalization of the island. We are negotiating with the government to partially subsidize flights for locals and islanders for lower fares. Since we started operations in Jelsa, the value of real estate in the area increased by 10 percent.

The landing and takeoff of seaplanes in the port of Split, after so many years, is for many a touching moment. Split can be proud that it will be part of this momentous moment in history.

(CEO Captain Klaus Dieter Martin with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, about to board a flight to Jelsa from Resnik) 

3. You have now opened several routes further north, including Losinj, Rab and Pula. Does this mean that dealing with bureaucracy is getting easier now that you are operational?

Obviously it became easier but still there are so many bureaucratic issues.

4. As peak season now is coming to an end, can you outline what kind of service you intend to maintain through the winter?

Annual operations will continue throughout the winter. As I previously stated, we are here all year round and not just a couple of months of the season. We provide public transport, which we want to offer to both tourists and locals alike. About

We will reduce the number of lines during the winter months, however, we will remain operational throughout the year.

(Final preparations in Vela Luka on Korcula, the latest addition to the ECA network. Flights are scheduled to start next month)

5. And of course, new destinations. We hear that Vela Luka on Korcula is imminent, Novalja on Pag soon after? Which other destinations do you aim to have online for the start of season 2016? Many of our readers are particularly interested in updates on Dubrovnik, Korcula Town and Zadar.

Rijeka, Mali Lošinj, Dubrovnik....We hope they will find solution in Dubrovnik finally.

6. There are various numbers bandied about regarding number of employees, ECA investment and number of planes. Can you give some official figures on the situation so far and projections for 2016?

Including our current six, by 2017 we plan to build between 20 and 22 piers and obtain 17 seaplanes with about 45 crew members.

Croatia is a beautiful country, the people are wonderful and huge potential is felt at every step. In addition, there are 1246 islands and beautiful towns along the coast such as Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Sibenik , Rijeka, Pula. And we are focused on linking the coast and islands. Furthermore, there are 55 million Italians who are only a 30 minute flight away from Croatia and Italy is waiting for our seaplane connection. Currently, we have over one hundred employees, who we have offered full time and year round positions to. We are proud to provide employment opportuities to the young and eager citizens of this beautiful country. I believe in the Croatian youth and I think that they should be given the opportunity to develop in their own country.

7. And after 15 years working on the project, are you still optimistic? Have your goals changed?

Of course I am optimistic. My biggest problem is that I do not give up. Never.:) I do not see problems but potential.

I am surrounded every day by my wonderful team, who supports me and this project and when you have a family like that, there is no room for pessimism.

If someone were to ask me to do this over again I would say ... Yes ! Croatia is a beautiful country with beautiful people and deserves to fight for their common good and development.