Gov’t hopes to be third time lucky with new OA

The Transport and Communications Ministry is expecting any day now expressions of interest from private investors for a majority stake in the proposed revamped and streamlined scheme for national carrier Olympic Airways, sources said. A few days ago, the government, through its three privatization advisers, the National Investment Bank for Industrial Development (ETEBA), Alpha Finance and CBG Investment Bank (all subsidiaries of major commercial banks) sent invitations for expression of interest to at least five entrepreneurial schemes; four of these are said to be among the participants in the two previously failed attempts to privatize the carrier. The recipients are said to include businessmen Stamatis Restis (representing Golden Aviation, which had formed a consortium with Olympic Airways pilots in the last privatization attempt), Stelios Raptis (of Chrysler Aviation, a California-based air-taxi company), the Laskaridis Group (shipowners and shareholder of Aegean Airlines) and Angelopoulos, who is said to represent a New York-based investment company; another recipient is said to be Olympic Investors, a company of Greek-American interests. As the invitation has been sent out in secret (there has been no official reference to it of any sort), it appears possible that more suitors may emerge. Any interested investors have been asked to indicate their position within days and submit a memorandum of confidentiality in order to receive the business plan and all relevant details of the proposed new scheme – now renamed Olympic Airlines and shed of its past financial burdens. The suitors who will express interest will be invited for further contacts in November and to submit proof of their financial standing, the sources said. The government is proposing to sell a 51 percent interest in Olympic Airlines but is prepared to discuss even larger stakes. The privatization advisers are said to have estimated the value of the company at a minimum of 140 million euros. The government is, therefore, expecting bids to amount to at least 70 million euros. The buyer will acquire a company clean of debts. The package includes the internationally recognized Olympic five-circle sign, the name, a fleet of 47 aircraft (of which 18 are owned and the rest leased), the company’s licensed routes and the management. Company President Dionysis Kalofonos said recently Olympic Airlines will acquire an independent existence in early December. The big question – as in previous privatization attempts – concerns the reaction of staff. The new company is planned to have about 1,800 workers. Olympic Airways pilots questioned in a statement yesterday the wisdom of recent management decisions to assign to Gulf Air the Athens-to-Melbourne route («turning OA into a cheap ticket agent for Gulf Air») and to stop flying to Barcelona and Copenhagen (when the routes are included in the new company’s business plan).