Misc 06/07/2021

The mystery of airlines born in a pandemic

At least three companies have been launched in Spain despite covid, but focused on specific markets such as the islands and with much smaller fleets

3 min
The mystery of airlines born in a pandemic

In the Tintin comic The Crab with the Golden Claws one of the intrepid Belgian reporter's troubles ended with the crash-landing of a seaplane. The ship, shiny yellow and equipped with floats to soften the crash against the waves of the sea, this time exchanged the water for the burning sand of the Sahara desert. In the collective imagination, seaplanes are more a part of war and adventure films than of the usual passenger transport. But among the unforeseeable consequences of the pandemic there has also been a sudden return of these ships to the Països Catalans. Isla Air is a rare avis. An airline based in Palma that was born in a context that has changed the rules of the game in its sector, and flying the flag of an airplane model that only holds 19 passengers. "We had been working on the project for three years, but in the meantime we got caught up in the pandemic", explains Antoni Massana, who is responsible for the Balearic Islands.

Theirs was a niche project with a means of transport that claims to be "more environmentally friendly". Massana justifies that seaplanes consume less fuel than aircraft with jet engines. "Unlike the exhaust pipes of ships, seaplanes do not go underwater and do not damage the seabed", he says. The flights use the sea surface for lift and landing and therefore do not take up space on airport grounds but on port grounds. "Now that there is so much controversy about the land resources consumed by airlines, we don't need any more infrastructure than what already exists", he adds. To give you an idea, his model seaplane - it's called the Twin Otter, which until recently was no longer in production, is about 15 metres long by 20 metres wide at the wings. "It's a size similar to that of a catamaran that docks in any port", says Massana. In addition to the passengers, only two pilots travel inside the plane, while the cabin crew help to load the suitcases and assist the passengers before take-off.

For the operation to be profitable, however, these aircraft need marked and safe spaces near the ports from where they can lift off and land. Isla Air is precisely at this point. The company has begun talks with the port authorities of Palma and Barcelona to give the green light to its flights. The airline wants to connect the Balearic Islands between them and also with the Catalan capital on a route that would be somewhat slower than by conventional aircraft. Massana calculates about 45 minutes, but recalls that the traveler would not have to travel to the airport, would arrive earlier to the city and security checks would be faster.

Isla Air claims that, although they are not the only ones, they are among the first in Europe to have recovered the seaplane as a means of transport. In the Maldives it is the most common way to move from island to island, and countries like Egypt, India or Australia are also introducing it in regular lines. The project has three partners from the aeronautical sector - two of them international - who have financed the purchase of two seaplanes and the start-up of the airline.

Isla Air is not the only story in which an airline is born in Spain in one of the worst times in the history of the sector. You don't even have to leave the Balearic Islands to find another example. Uep Airways (a subsidiary of Madrid-based Swiftair) announced in March that it will start operating inter-island routes to compete with the IAG group brands. It will therefore fly three of its parent company's aircraft with the aim of reaching the Spanish mainland soon.

In the time we have been stuck in the pandemic, a new company has also appeared in the Canary Islands. Lattitude Hub - first christened Canarian Airways - was created in early 2021 through an alliance of 14 tourism entrepreneurs from the archipelago after six years working on the project. "We understood that the dependence of the Canarian tourism sector on connectivity made it necessary to take a step forward, and this has been our attitude. We couldn't just sit back and do nothing", explains Lattitude Hub. As in the two previous cases, however, they have not yet launched a single route.

On its website, the company advertises Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera as destinations, and in presentations had promised connections to cities like Barcelona, Berlin or Glasgow.