Bernie Baldwin

The Danish-owned carrier takes an unlikely step into scheduled Sicilian sunshine.

How did a well-known Scandinavian scheduled/ACMI operator end up providing socio-economic flights around the Mediterranean islands of Lampedusa and Pantelleria? The clue is ‘socio-economic’ – they are operated under a PSO (Public Service Obligation) scheme; carriers apply to fly certain routes and receive a set amount from the commissioning authority.

In 2018, DAT (originally known as Danish Air Transport) won that contract. “We applied for the routes in January 2018, were awarded them in April 2018 and began operations on 1 July with three aircraft flying 22 flights a day with a new brand, DAT Volidisicilia,” explains Luigi Vallero, scheduled services general manager Italy, DAT.

“DAT was unknown in Sicily, so we felt we should aim to be local, which is why created Volidisicilia. We have everything in Italian and the local dialect and the three aircraft have island names. We developed close partnerships with local authorities, tourist offices and other Sicilian enterprises. Also, on board we serve local brands, not global brands,” Vallero adds.

In the first six months from 1 July to 31 December in 2018, the airline carried 104,992 passengers. In its first full calendar year, 2019, it carried 203,252 passengers and has now surpassed 310,000 total passengers carried since launch.

Logistics have been a huge challenge, particularly when equipment had to be brought from Scandinavia. Now, DAT has a line station in Palermo. However, it’s not all sunshine for DAT, as Vallero notes. “The tender doesn’t take into consideration some extra costs facing the airline, nor does the schedule take into account local conditions and regulations.” He is talking about Pantelleria requiring extra crew qualification to cope with the high terrain around the airport. Lampedusa, meanwhile, has a harbour at end of runway; the airport is closed for two hours each day for the ferry to have harbour access. “We’re fighting to get that problem removed, so that the airport is not closed,” Vallero remarks.

DAT also has to deal with EU261 passenger compensation. “We did turn down compensation from a lady who put in a claim on behalf of her dog. He didn’t sign the document with his paw,” Vallero quips.

DAT Volidisicilia has also been flying from Catani to Olbia three times a week during summer and this year begins weekly flights (Saturday) between Catania and Brindisi from June to September. There will be a similar operation for Palermo–Brindisi.

“We’re looking at an improved tender in 1.5 years’ time,” Vallero says. “Also, we aim to have interline agreements, starting with Alitalia.” Having invested so much, DAT intends to keep the contract long-term.