Aegean looking forward to a privatized OA

Olympic Airways’ main domestic rival, Aegean Airlines, is willing to play a part in the sale of Greece’s ailing flag carrier, its chief executive said yesterday, as indications of new interest in the sale emerged. «We’re willing to help in the way of successfully privatizing Olympic, if the government asks us to do so,» Aegean’s Chairman and Chief Executive Theodore Vassilakis told Reuters in an interview but refused to be drawn on whether Aegean would bid for the airline. «It’s a complex case, but we’re available to help find a solution.» On Thursday, Greece said 12 business groups expressed non-binding exploratory interest in Olympic. Aegean, which was a runner-up in last year’s failed privatization tender, was not mentioned on the list. «From the moment Olympic gets privatized, we will be relieved, no longer having to confront a subsidized competitor,» Vassilakis said. «However, it’s quite a difficult task – changing the culture, the way Olympic’s staff has learned to operate in the last 30 years won’t be easy.» Faced with Olympic’s half-a-billion-euro accumulated loss, Greece will relaunch it as slimmer, debt-free airline renamed Olympic Airlines later this year in yet another attempt to put it on the block. Aegean took off in 1994 with a couple of Lear jets offering VIP chartered service. It has steadily grown to become Greece’s second-largest carrier, creating 1,800 jobs. The private airline says it has not enjoyed a level playing field in competition against the state carrier. «As users, we are not consulted on civil aviation matters, like airport extension plans. As long as Olympic has the same owner, we’ll continue to face a sort of resistance from the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transport Ministry,» Vassilakis said. «Greece missed the chance to develop its new Athens airport as a hub to the Middle East, opting to protect Olympic’s monopolistic behavior,» he said, citing a reluctance in the past to grant foreign operators stopover landing rights. With a current fleet of 18 aircraft – mainly Boeing 737 and AVRO RJ jets – Aegean flies 100 daily flights to 14 domestic and 11 European destinations. Aegean projects its passenger traffic this year will rise 12 percent to 2.8 million. It says it now has about 48 percent of the domestic market and expects an operating profit of about 6.0-7.0 million euros this year. Vassilakis said on flights to Germany, Aegean has now eclipsed Olympic and the airline would seek to grow further by boosting the frequency of its domestic flights while adding more international routes. «Successful companies don’t stop pedaling; increasing the frequency of flights is the way for growth,» he said.