There is more to the image of the nice sunny beaches, summer resorts, mediteranean weather and 3500 years of civilisation when you think of flying in Greece. High mountaineous terrain emerging out of the sea, which surrounds the greatest part of this country’s area, mainly form Greece. That leaves little room for land planes that could accommodate regular ILS equipped airports that pilots would approach flying over calm valleys.
In the mainland, Peloponissos peninsula to the South and Makedonia to the North of Greece have lots of airports surrounded by steep mountains that require careful attention by the pilot during navigation, approach and departure procedures. Good examples are Athens Elefsis LGEL, Ioannina LGIO, Kastoria LGKA, Kalamata LGKL, Kozani LGKZ, Tripolis LGTP and Sparti LGSP. Usually you get adjacent lakes since these are the only land planes in the area.
In the sea environment things get worse. The Ionian sea to the West and Eagean sea to the East contain dozens of islands which have every reason to accommodate an airport connecting them to the mainland. Some of them are classified as “remote” although you should be able to find nearby diversion fields. A quick look to runway lengths and airport lighting (and hours of operation) will prove that with certain aircraft types and during nighttime lots of options are out of consideration. Strong North winds make approaches quite dangerous since from the open sea you end up approaching a runway near steep rising land formations that are not always favourable to the wind direction. Good examples are Samos LGSM, Kerkyra LGKR, Mikonos LGMK, Santorini LGSR, Mitilini LGMT, Leros LGLR, Ikaria LGIK (where "Icarus" fell in Greek Mythology !), Astypalaia LGPL, Kalymnos LGKY, Chania LGSA, Iraklion LGIR, Kithira LGKC, Skiros LGSY and Syros LGSO.
Since the mountains usually rise very close from the water to high elevations, tiny pieces of land are usually left for airports (and their approach paths). This problem creates one of the most challenging environments for pilots flying with anything from big jets to small props within the Mediterranean region.
Often they refer as hard approaches Hong Kong Kai Tak or Innsbruck, Sion and Lugano in Europe. Why don’t you try to land in runway 09 of Samos LGSM, 36 of Skyros LGSO, 16 of Mikonos LGMK, 32 of Leros LGLE and 18 of Elefsis LGEL?
In Kerkyra (Corfu) LGKR you get a runway constructed on landfilled area over water, oriented towards a mountain 7 Nm to the North and approach this runway by VORDME offset course due to another mountain to the West and while on short finals you have a hill just East of Rwy 35 threshold (one of the most famous planespoting balconies in Europe !).
The new Athens Venizelos LGAV is situated within the Mesogea valey East of Athens and Ymitos mountain with 4 CATII ILS 4000m long Runways. One of the phenomenoes already observed in it's few months of operation, since April 2001, is wind direction shift when on ILS 03L (most frequent). With NorthEasterly winds Ymitos mountain, to the West, creates SouthEasterly winds at LGAT area. During initial approach on LGAV 03L pilots report strong tailwinds which at final approach stage change to headwinds. Radar vectoring from the North for runways 21L&R gets aircraft to fly close to dangerous rising mountains of Evoia peninsula to the NE and Dionysos mountain range, North of Athens, to the NW.
Samos LGSM has some of the most dangerous terrain around the airport leaving very few options for Go Arround. Right base for rwy 09 has to be flown at 2000 ft to avoid rising terrain within the airport traffic patern area. Steep rising mountains to the West and North leave only one approach sector available (from the South) since East sector does belong to Greece with Turkey's border passing two miles East of the airport.
Rodos LGRP Diagoras faces same problems with South-westerly winds. Terrain on short final runway 07 creates strong turbulence on days with such winds.
In Greece you will rarely find low clouds, requiring demanding ILS approaches. The large masses of water create strong North winds, though, during both summer and winter especially effective in the coastal airports. When some runways are not lined up N to S (previous para.) this creates great crosswind problems. Here we meet the demand for skilled pilot hands down to the bare “stick and rudder” level, without the use of any helping navaids, lighting, autopilot, FMS, GPS or ATC radar. Perfect examples are Samos LGSM, Iraklion LGIR and Souda LGSA. In Iraklion many airliners get diverted due to strong crosswind. In Samos, eventhough most frequent prevailing wind from NNW, Runway 09 is used for landing (tailwind + turbulence) because turbulence in the short approach sector of runway 27 is prohibiting even for a medium sized airliners. National Air Carrier Olympic Airways sends ATR instead of 737 due to the high rate of missed approaches (with 737) in this airport!
On the other hand when rarely winds drop to calm you may get fog situations at coastal airports such as Thessaloniki LGTS, Preveza LGPZ, Kerkyra LGKR and Athens LGAV.
The East part of the Aegean Sea has lots of Islands neighboring to the Turkish FIR. Try to approach or depart East of Samos, Chios, Kastelorizo, Mitilini Islands and Alexandroupolis in the mainland with a chart showing the FIR boundaries and you’ll see the problem.
The Italian FIR boundary is 100 Nm NW of Kerkyra airport. To our North we have Albania, FYRoM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Bulgaria.