ECONOMY

Restis pulling out of OA?

The Restis shipping group is withdrawing its interest in acquiring a 70 percent interest in cash-strapped state-owned Olympic Airways (OA) for which it has been in negotiations for more than two months, according to a report in shipping publication Trade Winds. On Thursday, a civil aviation trade union (OSPA) leader claimed during a meeting on the future of the carrier that the negotiations had failed, but did not elaborate. Other OSPA members said the airline is now recovering and facing better prospects, a view communicated through correspondence to European Commission President Romano Prodi. The Commission has investigated OA for improper state subsidies and Prodi said such support was granted in 1998. OSPA’s 6,000 members are vehemently opposed to any notion of privatizing Olympic Airways, even though the government has made a rash promise that no jobs would be lost as a result of privatization; currently, they are being very well paid while working far less than their European counterparts. Their negative attitude led British Airways, which had acquired Olympic’s management through subsidiary Speedways in early 1999, to refuse to exercise an option to buy a 20 percent stake in the company, which it left in mid-2000 ahead of the expiration of its contract. This is the third attempt at privatizing OA and the Commission has indicated the airline will have to go into liquidation if it fails. If the Restis group withdraws its interest, the government will start negotiations with Aegean Airlines, the second preferred bidder. Other sources, however, insist that certain problems in the current negotiations have been overcome and that a result may be announced soon.