Suitor selected for Olympic

The government has selected one of five potential bidders for further talks on a takeover of Olympic Airlines, the slimmed-down successor to heavily indebted Olympic Airways, a senior official said yesterday. «They (the bidder) look willing to buy a 100 percent stake and have backing from a big US bank. But this does not mean we have clinched a deal on Olympic yet,» a Finance Ministry official said. He added that the value of the new airline was seen at 115 million euros ($139 million). He would not disclose the name of the bidder but an industry source told Reuters the Golden Aviation group, controlled by Greek shipowner Stamatis Restis and selected last year as a preferred bidder before it pulled out of privatization talks, was again a contender. The ministry official said the biggest obstacle to a deal at the moment was a strike by the flight attendants’ union, which was well into its sixth day and had already cost the carrier more than 5 million euros. Although the launch of the new airline has been delayed by staff protests, the government says it has no choice but to go ahead with a revamp of the carrier, since only a slimmed-down version could attract buyers and allow the State to stop bankrolling its more than $600 million in accumulated losses. The plan envisions the new carrier operating with about 1,850 employees compared with its predecessor’s 6,100. Transport Minister Christos Verelis said yesterday that, despite the hiccups facing the deal, the government was determined to go ahead. «If we do not privatize the flying segment, it will collapse. In order to find a buyer, we have to cut costs to the level of other airlines,» Verelis told Flash Radio. (Reuters)