Dear Regional Governor, dear Ministers, dear Mayors, Dear Ambassador, ladies and gentlemen.
This is a truly special day for Thessaloniki and Greece, as we are here to “welcome” the renovated Makedonia airport. A new airport rather, given that almost everything is now different. From the runway to the second, architecturally impressive, new terminal; from the increased number of gates and check-in desks to the swift baggage-handling system and the many new commercial spaces.
To put it simply, Makedonia airport is now double in size and entirely renovated. This is also the case with the other 13 regional airports, where major renovations have now been completed.
Let me remind you that the path to get here was not easy. Ιt is worth recalling the turbulence and the storms that this project went through over the course of time. The resistance that the government of Antonis Samaras faced when it opted for cooperation between the public and the private sector in order to attract new investment to Greece.
We were unfairly criticized when we accentuated the significance of our airports as a “bridgehead” of Greek tourism. Time was lost because some stood against this path to growth, and they bear responsibility for this. In the end, of course, they were forced to follow that same path.
Nowadays fortunately only a minute minority questions the need to tap into private capital for projects that serve public needs. We have a tangible example in support of this right in front of us, one that has already borne fruit. I am referring to the Fraport investment, which reached 100 million euros just here in Thessaloniki, and was completed earlier than anticipated.
As of this year, the airport is cooperating with an additional 13 airlines and is serving connections with eight extra international destinations. Dear Regional Governor, dear Mayors, as Makedonia’s capacity now stands at up to 10 million passengers annually, its prospects are extraordinary, as are the prospects of Thessaloniki itself, as the city finally has the airport it deserves.
This is just one of the most dynamic aspects of the program to upgrade 14 regional airports. As mentioned earlier, dear President, this is an investment worth 440 million euros, which is a game-changer for 11 islands and three mainland destinations, eventually adding revenue to the public coffers and creating 10,000 new jobs. It also guarantees better services for travellers and a better workplace for the entire staff.
At the same time, this project offers a boost to intangible national gains, in other words to our reputation as a tourist destination. I would say that this investment serves as an example of a productive partnership between the state and the private sector.
Such investments also have a social dimension, besides the growth aspect. They create jobs and boost the local economy. They minimize distances and break the isolation of our islands. They serve our citizens in their everyday lives, making communication easier. They also gradually reduce the cost of transport; as passenger numbers grow, the cost of transport is expected to go down.
So, this is an investment that affects the entire country in multiple ways. We now know that employing private capital, in various ways, while reducing the state’s role, pays off.
The Fraport deal’s impact on GDP exceeded 300 million euros over the course of a single year. It has doubled employment, creating thousands of jobs, and it will significantly boost passenger traffic in the major Greek tourist destinations -excluding of course the period of the pandemic, although I do need to tell you that I am delighted to see planes landing and taking off from our airports once again.
As we are getting closer to the end of the pandemic, we all expect that increased traffic during the summer will allow us to look forward to a much better tourist season compared to last year.
We are getting such positive messages of partnerships between the state and the private sector, from all privatization arenas: the Piraeus Port Authority where we worked with Cosco, the regional airports where we worked with Fraport, TrainOSE where we worked with FS Italiane. Hence, the airport of Kalamata and a series of regional ports will take the same course.
It is time for everyone to assume their role. It is time for investors to offer financing and the state to offer suitable infrastructure; for investors to take business risks and stand to gain from them, while the state fairly distributes the common benefits to all citizens.
Especially here, in Thessaloniki, there are many ongoing projects as you know, in collaboration with all the productive forces: the subway, the vertical road links to the Egnatia Motorway and the Patras-Athens-Thessaloniki-Evzoni Motorway and the extension of Pier 6. The railway and road link to the port and the renovation of the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF), Toumba Stadium and the Pavlos Melas military camp. The eastern Ring Road, the water management projects in Kalamaria, anti-flood systems in the fruit and vegetable market. New schools and an expansion of the bus fleet. All these along with the development of natural gas projects all over Macedonia. An infrastructure investment program unprecedented in the region of Thessaloniki.
Let me get back to tourism. I would like to point out that as we are cautiously moving towards the end of this health crisis, Makedonia airport, along with the other 13 regional airports, become national “bridges” to a more rewarding summer, with greater freedom. All our airports have been certified by the ACI in terms of security measures against Covid. And of course the European certificate, an initiative where Greece had a leading role, is now becoming reality. Meanwhile, the national system of checks and controls that has been laid out serves as an added guarantee.
As Operation Freedom (Eleftheria) continues at a very fast pace, I believe that our country can raise an immunity wall in the very near future. We can, therefore, be optimistic; complying with the basic measures that safeguard our health we can build a framework that will benefit our tourism sector and a more open everyday life for us all. Despite the losses, our country joined this battle victoriously and will exit in the same way.
In closing, I would like to underscore, once again, the importance of our steadfast commitment to this project. We all know that we have been through many adversities; in a spirit of understanding and cooperation we managed the difficulties and emergencies caused by the pandemic. We found mutually agreeable solutions, beneficial both to the public sector and Fraport, so that this investment can be completed unimpededly and achieve its main goal.
I would like to congratulate everyone who contributed, for this great project to make us all proud today. I would like to congratulate everyone -and there are many- who worked with passion and professionalism to make this truly complicated project come to pass. After all, -as the Fraport CEO already mentioned- renovation works were going on while the airports were operating.
I believe that the Fraport personnel who contributed to this great project have every reason to be really satisfied today. We share this satisfaction and pride.
To use airline lingo, there is only one command from the government “control tower”: let’s take this country higher and higher, without having our heads in the clouds.
Congratulations on the new Makedonia airport. Congratulations on the 13 other regional airports that complement this project. May it be full of life and, above all, smiling and safe visitors and staff.
Once again. Congratulations.