The airport extension project leads to the “mykonisation” of Paros and Antiparos, destructive of economic value, social and environmental quality and their sustainability.
We have carefully read various articles (including Mr Sotiris Koutisaftis’) by strong supporters of the airport extension project.
All of them seek to reassure those concerned about such a dramatically oversized project, especially since it has not been the subject of prior legal consultations and the official project documentation deliberately minimizes most of its harmful consequences.
Often marred by imprecisions and inaccuracies, these articles minimize the evidence of “mykonization” of Paros and Antiparos and completely hide the issue of sustainable development.
Note No. 1: The current passenger handling at Paros airport needs to be significantly improved, but why was it not done sooner? Why would we need a clearly oversized project for this purpose? Why lengthen the track? That is neither necessary nor indicated but, on the contrary, dangerous for the island’s future.
Obviously, the boarding, waiting, and baggage claim lounges, in particular, are far too “narrow”.
But why is this so?
Lack of financial means at the time because of a lack of local investors?
If the objective was to welcome more passengers to develop tourism, why did we not invest more and better at that time?
The invisible hand of the market was, therefore, very failing then!
About 26 million EUR was spent on the initial airport, financing the structural works of the track, the most expensive item of the infrastructure. Still, despite some private donations, the available budget was insufficient to develop the airport building properly.
Now we are talking about spending 46 million EUR. Why an almost doubling in investments when all the earthworks of the track are already done?
Is it not legitimate to question the sizing of the proposed extension?
Do we really need 13000 m² of buildings?
Do we really need duty-free or “non-Schengen” reception areas?
What are the traffic assumptions underlying such sizing?
Are we preparing to welcome thousands of tourists by air on a daily basis?
Or, on the contrary, should we fear a future “white elephant” (a reference to the oversized infrastructures built in Spain during the real estate madness of the late 2000s and remained empty)?
Since these are European subsidies, who will care about any financial waste? No one will worry about absorbing any induced losses; no one mentions the financial conditions for the operation of the future airport complex. Decidedly, the invisible hand of the market is absent from reasoning!
But above all, would not a large part of this capital be better used elsewhere, especially to improve other infrastructures on the island (see next point)?
So, do we really need to extend the current runway by 1400 m?
This is a real issue that should not be avoided and has little to do with security considerations, which are falsely invoked to extract subsidies from the European community intended to promote sustainable development.
Indeed, with a runway of 1400 m, Paros has seen its airport traffic more than triple in three years, and this in complete safety! Better yet, all the traffic targets initially planned for 2035, as set out in the environmental impact assessment documents established for the extension permit application, have been met or even exceeded as of 2019. So we took 15 years ahead of the initial plans, with a track of 1400 m, safely and in all weather!
So what more do we want?
More and more tourists to mow, arriving soon by whole charters?
But is this really compatible with high-end positioning and sustainability, as invoked incantationally in the article?
In truth, the disputed “pro-extension” articles and authors defend a totally old-fashioned strategy of developing mass tourism, a “tyranny of the number of arrivals” as yet castigated by Prime Minister Mitsotakis.
Our recommendations are very different but simple common sense; they are truly aiming for a sustainable development goal in Paros:
- let’s improve reception capacities and comfort at the airport, but on reasonable assumptions of controlled growth in air traffic, starting from the high level already reached in 2019; let’s not forget to do the same for port infrastructure!
- let us remain respectful of Cycladic standards (which is absolutely not the case in the current project of a pronounced industrial nature) for resized buildings, very poorly designed to meet carbon neutrality, which is aberrant in our time,
- cancel the project to extend the track to increase attendance: it is useless; this jeopardizes the future, and we do it very well without it – let us stress here that it is not serious to say that there would be any solvent demand to justify direct services from Paros to European capitals; the rules of the market are unavoidable!
- let us thus avoid a headlong rush promised by this pharaonic project which is positioned in frontal competition with the neighbouring airports of Mykonos and Santorini; this would be a real negation of the concept of sustainable development and, let’s be clear, the airport authorities of Paros are not big enough to face FRAPORT Greece!
- let us content ourselves with increasing rotations from Athens or Thessaloniki by seeking the best fluidity for passengers in transit on these two hubs; we will gain in flexibility, logistical and economic efficiency, to benefit as much as possible from the progress of aviation to respect environmental constraints.
- During this phase of improvement of Paros airport, it is essential to think about the measures to be carried out quickly, in situ, in order to reduce the carbon footprint and prepare it for the needs of tomorrow’s short-haul aviation, which will be electric and/or will run on hydrogen – and will not require a runway extension, perfectly satisfied with runway lengths … inferior to the current one! All “serious” airports are working on this imperative objective; So let us also be serious, right now, otherwise this unpreparedness will be very expensive, both in carbon certificates to buy to compensate for this excess pollution and to compensate for the loss of income due to operational delay.
Failing to do so, who will have to pay these additional costs resulting from a short-term business vision as well as a guilty unpreparedness for the immediate stakes, especially in terms of climate change. Are the Parians aware that they bear the economic and fiscal risk of this irresponsible choice?
Note N°2: The infrastructure in Paros is saturated.
All objective observers share this observation: the island’s infrastructure is subject to high tensions, at least since 2018: chronic traffic jams in PAROIKIA or flagrant failures in wastewater treatment (especially in PAROIKIA) or garbage collection, insufficient flow in the late afternoon for 4G or water, etc…
The reasons for this are very simple: the permanent out-of-season population on the island is of the order of
14,000 inhabitants; in 2016, year-to-date arrivals amounted to 708,000 per boat and 38,000 per plane; two years later, it was 924,000 per boat and 93,000 per plane, a dizzying increase of 36%; with the official figures of 2019, we then approach in annual cumulation to 400,000 additional arrivals in three years, of which at least 42% (source: HCAA) focus on the two summer months, with an average stay on the island of more than 8 days (source INSETE in national average; probably longer average stay in Paros).
It is therefore at least 22,400 additional inhabitants since 2016, who stay permanently in Paros during July and August, with marked peaks of attendance during the first two weeks of August; in 3 years, the number of residents of Paros has therefore increased by more than double its resident population, beyond the number of tourists welcomed before.
However, already in 2016, there were many people in Paros in August, of the order of 42,000 according to our estimates.
Of course, despite such an influx, infrastructure has not kept up; and it is doubtful that they can catch up with ongoing projects as superficially detailed in the article.
Thus, the argument often invoked that the electrical connection of the island with the mainland, which would constitute a permanent supply of electricity neglects the precariousness of the distribution network on the island, its archaic and undersized state. In addition, even if the connection to the continent is largely sized, the permanence of electricity supply for Paros is not ensured; simply because the increase in tourist attendance affects the whole of Greece, at the same time; therefore, the national electricity grid is confronted with peaks in consumption here or elsewhere, wherever the tourist hordes surge, at the same time, very difficult to manage other than by fossil power plants (the only ones that can be easily solicited; can we decently restart the Naoussa power plant??) or by load shedding, which happens regularly.
So what about record CO2 emissions to meet this very high energy demand? Suppliers must launch their interruptible production units, which are often the least efficient and generally the most polluting.
Isn’t this another simple and irrefutable argument that mass tourism is not compatible with climate imperatives?
As for the problem of wastewater, we forget that in order to be able to treat water centrally, it must be collected. However, will the habitat likely to accommodate these cohorts of newcomers (unlikely to be realized in areas currently already heavily urbanized) be served by a sewage system? Will this sewage system be enough to support future growth? Have we thought about the difficulty of revising from A to Z the system of the whole sewer in the city: good luck!
And then, to say that the problem of drinking water supply will be easily solved by adding desalination and pumping capacities of aquifers … Is it not to forget a little quickly on the one hand, the dramatic consequences already observed on the fauna and flora in the coastal areas where the brine produced by the current desalination units is discharged and on the other hand, the pollution of the aquifers by seawater already occurred as a result of their overexploitation?
Is funding available? Are real estate developers already making the necessary investment pay?
Has a policy been put in place to control groundwater pollution by homes not connected to sewer networks? Do we have real control over the current and future exploitation of groundwater?
But, in the meantime, beware of the risk of pollution of the bays of Parikia or Naoussa; we saw how it went in Mykonos for the most popular beaches!
Let us briefly mention the problem of waste; to boast that the landfilling of all waste is sustainable is to forget that such practices are prohibited in many countries from which many visitors who stay in Paros come from; they also note that the waste containers overflow due to the lack of sufficiently frequent collection, modulated according to the number of visitors on the island; everyone notes that selective sorting is in its infancy, which makes the so-called recycling of waste uncredible. At the very least, substantial efforts to improve are inevitable, so as not to disgust them with this essential lack of action, to the point of abandoning the island.
In short, the rate of increase in attendance in Paros has been extreme, recently and over a very short period of time; of course, this has been largely underestimated; it is therefore not surprising that the infrastructure is already very largely saturated.
Rationally, at this stage, before disembarking even more visitors on the island, it should be ensured beforehand that we are able to welcome them well; it amounts to following a common-sense approach of “putting the cart behind the horse”!
Mr Sotiris’article, in particular, supports a reverse strategy: let in additional hordes of tourists in order to further saturate the infrastructure; thus, with the market playing a part, this will necessarily force the local authorities to do something about it!!??
But how can we explain that these local authorities are not already acting to solve the problem of traffic jams in Parikia?
This should have been done for years. A diversion was envisaged, its route exists, but the more time passes, the more complex the necessary expropriation decisions become; so nothing moves. And then, is it still the right solution?
And what about traffic jams in Naoussa and parking problems?
But what are we waiting for to act?
The Municipality has commissioned a new study on this subject. It is to be hoped that it will consider other modes of transport, anticipate the inevitable electrification of the motorized fleet by 2030 (as already envisaged by Astypalea) and consider measures limiting the arrival of visitor vehicles and why not, the number of eligible vehicles on the island.
In the meantime, could we not commission police officers to regulate traffic at intersections while waiting for a more fundamental solution? But it seems that the numbers are insufficient especially as we are … unable to house them properly!
This is further proof of the saturation of capacities on the island; And, for lack of police in number, what about the security on the island with these records of affluence??
For Paros, it is therefore urgent to put the cart behind the horse, to adopt principles of reality rather than to practice the flight forward; prioritize an ambitious and sustainable improvement of infrastructure (including reception rooms at the airport but also at the port);
Let us allocate the European capital already available (and planned to be used unduly for the extension of the airport – see below) which would thus be truly oriented towards the desired objectives (sustainable development).
Let us clarify the sources of funding, in addition to European subsidies, intended for all these investments necessary to improve and resize infrastructure, starting with real estate developers for the granting of permits and the connection to infrastructure, and visitors via tourist taxes, the vehicles of these visitors by a road tax, but also, in a fair and measured way, to all taxpayers of the island because they are supposed to benefit from the tourist windfall.
Subsequently, how do we plan to charge for the use of these infrastructures: by their direct users, by those who derive direct profits from tourism? Will polluters pay?
In short, let us talk openly and lucidly about the economic and financial aspects that arise from tourism policy.
Let’s take the time to digest the recent influx of tourists by taking care not to let their reception experience deteriorate and control the flow of arrivals with incentives that aim as a priority to better spread the tourist season over time, which will allow a more efficient use of the largely resized infrastructures.
In short, while there is still time, let us voluntarily avoid the “mykonization” of Paros and Antiparos.
Note No. 3: The runway extension will actually allow 5,000 arrivals by plane per day in high season, which will cause more than 50 daily aircraft movements.
This hypothesis put forward by some airport promoters is indeed very plausible, perhaps not immediately, but it is undeniably to be feared. Why?
Because, arithmetically, it corresponds to a strategy of tourist massification.
Indeed, 5.000 passenger arrivals per day, at PAROS airport, in high season compares to:
- 700 passenger arrivals, on average daily in August 2019 at Paros Airport;
the figure quoted in the article of 1,500 arrivals per day appears too high … except to cumulate arrivals and departures !?
it is therefore an increase of 7 times that is sought compared to a high reference level after a tripling in 3 years!? We would then be at X 21 versus the traffic of 2016!
- 5,512 passenger arrivals, the record level reached in July 2019 at Mykonos Airport; we are therefore 10% below.
Arithmetically, it would be a “mykonization” of Paros airport!
Inevitably, this would require a strategy of aggressively conquering airport market shares against the neighboring airports of Mykonos and Santorini, which have recently increased significantly (early 2021) and which FRAPORT-Greece intends to make profitable. Because, in the airport sector as in any other economic sector, the invisible hand of the market operates with considerations of competition, pricing, quality of service for the consumer, etc.
But, in Mykonos, to accommodate 5,293 passengers arriving per day (by scheduled flights),it was necessary to land and take off on average 42 aircraft per day in July 2019,the majority of which are wide-body aircraft.
As these calculations are derived from the monthly statistics published by the HCAA, these are “simple” averages, which makes it possible to imagine that some days Mykonos airport recorded more than 50 aircraft rotations per day + night included, i.e. 50 landings, 50 phases of taxiing and then “taxi”, but also 50 take-offs.
We understand why the residents of Mykonos airport are totally exasperated!
The same nuisances will necessarily be felt by the residents of Paros airport, which in any case, Mr. Sotiris admits: “it will be necessary “that measures are taken to alleviate the problem of these nuisances”!
But how will we mitigate the future nuisances in Paros, without limitation resulting from the permit granted, and if we already do not succeed in Mykonos? How to mitigate nuisances whose intensity is the highest precisely at the time when the attendance is the highest!?
As too often, we will first hurt people again and then perhaps then, we will try to remedy it; it is appalling in the twenty-first century; Can we learn nothing from the experiences of others?
However, as already indicated, the permit for Paros airport is “limitless”, in terms of traffic and operating hours.
Such crucial information has not been made anyone aware of the public at all: future traffic forecasts, unlimited operating conditions of the airport, no preventive measures against nuisances for local residents (simply denied in official reports), nor any measures to reduce the carbon footprint.
Has it been correctly described to the residents of the island, especially those who live between Parasporos and Alyki, or between Pounta, Kampos and Petaloudes, that they should expect air traffic comparable to that of Mykonos, night and day, 24 hours a day?
In the official environmental impact reports, have such traffic hypotheses been properly used in order to assess the importance of noise pollution, stress on biodiversity, not to mention stress on the island’s infrastructure in general? The answer is in the question: all the reports and official communications have deliberately underestimated, if not totally obscured, the harmful consequences of this project to extend the airport runway.
The “mykonization” of the island of Paros is therefore well included in the hypotheses adopted, but it has not been quantified in terms of environmental impact in the broad sense.
This point deserves to be emphasized; therefore, would the fantasy then be to surpass Mykonos in terms of attendance!?
Note N° 4: Paros must strive to attract but above all to retain a “quality” tourist clientèle
This seems obvious marketing: a differentiating positioning vis-à-vis mass tourismdestinations, such as Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos or even Skiatos.
A quality positioning, “eco-responsible” or “high-end”,is not an economic model with lowbenefits; quite the contrary; well conducted,it is a profitable model for all stakeholders.
It is this almost “ideal” positioning that prevailed until now in Paros and Antiparos; it is this positioning that has made their reputation: the regulars, Greeks or non-Greeks, belong mainly to this “quality” category.
If they chose Paros rather than Mykonos, yet much easier to access live by plane from their main residence, it is not by chance.
These regulars do not like the agitation of the masses; they are attentive and respectful of local traditions, they favor authenticity over “blingbling”; they want to be able to go to the restaurant without having to book two weeks in advance; they look for beaches where we are not yet on top of each other in the middle of August; etc.
Until now, Paros offered them such characteristics and they were perfectly accommodating to take a little longer to arrive at their destination (transit through Athens to board an Olympic Aïr Bombardier/DAH with 40 or 80 seats or even go for a real change of scenery when you come from the greyness of northern Europe with a ferry from Piraeus or Raffina l!) .
Many of these “savvy” or even “eco-responsible” tourists who have been staying on the island for a long time, who plan to stay there even longer in retirement,who pay local taxes and spend a lot of money there locally, are extremely worried about the unbridled development prospects at work in Paros in recent years; the airport extension project is the most alarming symbol of what they fear the most: the “mykonization” of the island.
Rightly so, they consider that they can do without it even if it costs them a little longer time to get there. They prefer this rather than risking the invasion of the islands by charters which would facilitate an extension of the runway. They are likely to discipline themselves to follow environmental rules.
They consider that Paros respects, deserves and enjoys itself rather than is consumed like all mass products.
The opinion of these faithful should therefore not be disdained; they know the island,they appreciate it from the bottom of their hearts,they have been coming and coming back for years, their children come to get married; they readily admit that the erection of some hotels of good environmental standing would be judicious in respect of the personality of the sites and they rejoice that the permanent residents are developing their homes, or even their outbuildings, to welcome tourists in a friendly and individualized way rather than in tight rows and crowded coaches.
This is why everyone, residents and semi-residents alike, will be able to rightly wonder about the adequate number of hotels and the geographical dissemination of a construction program aimed at a hundred large-scale establishments intended to accommodate the flow of new arrivals using the airport’s new reception capacities; is there not a risk of concreting the landscape and destroying the coastline in certain areas?
Obviously, this would offer more beds, but with what damage to the environment and for what economic benefits for the Parians, if it is to operate under the control of “tour operators” practicing the “all included”. Let’s forget conviviality and social cohesion; the islands will live to the rhythm of charter arrivals.
Rightly so, they are worried about this flowering of “low cost” house construction programs, far from a responsible architecture, designed on the contrary in a misguided Cycladic style, benefiting from opaque derogations from the urban planning rules set out at will in the article (badly respected according to insiders), maisonettes intended solely to maximize the collection of rents (via Airbnb or equivalent? in an occult way n?), by investors often foreign to the island (but who would have a voice in the chapters) and who hasten to replicate a model of real estate speculation that has succeeded elsewhere.
Such houses will clearly be “badly” occupied, only a few weeks in summer, accentuating the syndrome of “cold beds” on the island and also participating in the disintegration of social cohesion (real estate speculation no longer allows to house young people or seasonal workers on affordable rental conditions).
Rightly, they note that the infrastructures are indeed saturated, which is also incompatible with the expectations of “eco-responsible” tourists who have themselves travelled enough around the world to know how tourist destinations in the grip of mass tourism are evolving.
For now, out of nostalgia, they maintain their indulgence in the face of various growing dysfunctions. Yet their warnings deserve to be heeded.
Some of these regulars have already given up staying on the island during the high season; in a way, they continue to render “service” to the Parian community by offering to rent their residence or leaving it to their offspring to stay there.
If they return out of season, it continues to suit the community well because it contributes to a better spread of the tourist season.
Because, one of the key factors of sustainable tourism is to avoid the empty bed syndrome (like many seaside resorts in Greece or elsewhere outside the summer months, like many winter sports resorts transformed into ghost cities in the summer).
From now on, all places with high tourist attendance seekto mitigate the peaks ofattendance to better spread the tourist season and thus solicit the infrastructures in the most optimal way possible. Why don’t we do the same here?
With the “mykonization” underway in Paros and Antiparos, the risk is that a large part of this semi-permanent “quality” population chooses to go elsewhere.
Goodriddance, let’s say certain, by a reasoning characteristic of the myopic. But this population will probably be replaced at first by other arrivals with no lower purchasing power. But they will come to Paros to stay, first and foremost during the summer; in addition, they will certainly be very demanding (much more than the outgoing ones) as to the quality of the infrastructures and services offered. Willtheythen have the patience to wait for a vague promise of infrastructure improvements? Thisisunlikely: they will certainly choose to resell quickly, but to resell, to whom?
Again to “high-end” visitors? Probably less and less because the “bad reputation” will spread; the island will then be plagued by promoters targeting less demanding categories of tourists; the buildings will be resized, tighter, more maisonettes, thus accentuating this “mykonization” on the architectural and urban plan.
The risk is therefore the race to the bottom: quantity chasing quality, like the principle of Thomas Gresham well known in economics: bad money drives out good money!
Thus, several conclusions are necessary, which invalidate the theses of the ardent defenders of the pharaonic extension of the airport:
- The strategy of attracting more and more arrivals to Paros, especially via its airport, is clearly a mass tourism strategy, irreconcilable with the search for sustainable development; there are countless examples of this here in Greece, as elsewhere;
- Mass tourism leads to an eviction of “quality” tourism, especially in a territory with limited surface areas with saturated infrastructures;
- “Quality” and “eco-responsible” tourism is the one that best reconciles sustainable development,a spread of the tourist season over the year, and good economic activity for all stakeholders on the islands;
- The “eco-responsible” tourist is entitled to demand quality infrastructure,as soon as possible and at the best standards of sustainable development;
- If we want to retain / attract a high-end clientele to Paros, it is necessary first and foremost to relax the constraint of saturated infrastructures; therefore, the extension of the runway is a real obstacle to this priority because it unnecessarily diverts the energies of those responsible as well as scarce financial resources, to precipitate the islands into a headlong rush damaging to its common good;
- To oppose the “mykonization” of Paros/Antiparos is absolutely not to oppose their economic development; on the contrary, it is to militate for their sustainability!
But it is effectively opposing those who feverishly seek short-term profit at the expense of sustainable development.
- It is not acceptable to tolerate, even in our time, projects that do not include in their economic evaluation the costs of induced externalities, starting with infrastructure spending and environmental costs.
It is this analysis that has motivated many citizens to oppose, through legal channels, this extension project, which has not been the subject of real information or public interaction (which is contrary to the law), which misuses Community capital intended to finance sustainable development (which is a fraud under Community law), which leads to a “mykonization” of Paros and Antiparos, to a harmful evolution for all stakeholders, endangering social cohesion, the environment and the local economy.
Eric Michelet is member of the board of directors of the FoPA