Transport minister wants Olympic bidders to team up

Transport Minister Christos Verelis yesterday called on the two bidders for Olympic Airways to combine their forces for a majority stake in the debt-laden national carrier. He said that preferred bidder Axon Airlines alone does not have the capability to ensure Olympic’s viability. It would be better if the bidders for Olympic join forces to take a majority stake in the national carrier, he told a press conference. In addition to Axon, third-placed bidder Integrated Airline Solutions (IAS) is still in the running. The Australian-based company is cooperating with Olympic pilots and several leading Greek businessmen. Second-placed Cyprus Airways ruled itself out of the contest earlier by refusing to renew its letter of guarantee. Axon spokesman Leonidas Papavassilakis told Kathimerini English Edition that the airline has always favored cooperation with other companies, including the third-placed, in its quest for Olympic. In the meantime, he said that Axon is awaiting the recommendation from the privatization advisor Credit Suisse First Boston. Verelis has also deferred the sale of debt-ridden Olympic Airways to the end of the month, ostensibly because of the fallout of the September 11 attacks on the airline industry but in reality to buy time for Axon to strengthen its consortium of partners. The minister said the current climate is far from favorable for the sale of the national carrier as financial institutions are loath to offer loans to airline companies, many of which are facing problems because of the sharp downturn in passenger demand following the attacks on the USA in September. Airlines around the world have grounded planes, cut routes and lay off employees in an effort to combat declining demand. Notable casualties are Swissair, which is due to disappear under the wings of its subsidiary Crossair, and Belgian airline Sabena which declared bankruptcy on Tuesday. Credit Suisse First Boston said two weeks ago that it would issue its recommendation to the government before November 15, claiming the need to brief newly appointed Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis on the procedures. Verelis also said the government would push for decreases of at least 10 percent in all airport charges as part of a strategy to increase the competitiveness of the Eleftherios Venizelos airport. Its operator, Athens International Airport, last month announced 5- to 60-percent cuts in landing and parking charges for airlines, effective on 1 November. Airlines however said the reductions are meager and only affect a small percentage of planes.

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