2015 Saarmae transport improvements
Karolia: The island state of Saarmae is to benefit from several major improvements to its transport infrastructure this summer, including an extension to the airport and new sea links to the mainland.
The islands' capital city and main entry point, Lía, will see a scheduled hovercraft service to Säntjana commence in June, filling a much-needed route to the islands. Currently, the size of vessels able to depart from the eastern shores of the capital is limited by shallow water, but the new hovercraft fleet, which can carry 60 cars and 150 passengers, will be able to depart directly from the beaches at both ends of its route. Coupled with the speeds of up to 90kmh achievable on open water and a frequency benefiting from faster turnaround times than conventional boats, the service will be able to handle as many passenger miles as larger vehicle ferries.
Smaller charter hovercraft will also be available as direct services to the outlying islands. At present, all passengers from the mainland must travel to ports on Príatje, the largest island, and then transfer to smaller vessels to the other five islands.
Meanwhile, Saarmae Lía Airport will benefit from an upgrade to terminal facilities in the next three years as well as the construction of an adjacent seaplane terminal. The airport's notoriously short runway is still unable to be upgraded to sufficient length to handle jet aircraft, but a 20 metre extension enabled by the removal of old buildings will allow three new types of larger propeller-driven aircraft to take-off and land safely. The plan also involves constructing ten new aircraft stands and the purchase of new airstairs and passenger buses to serve them.
The seaplane base, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will be served by services to destinations including Paliiso, Patari, Osmila and Sebee using amphibious aircraft. Once complete, the complete upgrade program will mean that the airport will be able to handle an additional 60000 passengers per year. Funds are being made available via a loan from the state government against increased revenue from landing fees and taxes once the improvements are in place.
Concerns were raised by island residents about the increased noise and water traffic the projects would create, and revived questions of whether the islands' road and accommodation infrastructure could service the increased numbers of visitors the islands would receive. The state government has tried to reassure residents that plans to improve the road network were also being developed and that the island still had some capacity even during the busy summer season. It hopes locals will also find the new services beneficial.