State carrier will lease airplanes to cope with Olympics traffic

Greek flag-carrier Olympic Airlines expects to fly up to a quarter of a million more passengers this year due to the Olympic Games and will lease extra aircraft to cope, its management said yesterday. Olympic Airlines, the slimmed-down successor of the debt-laden, state-owned Olympic Airways that started operations in mid-December, expects to carry about 5.5 million passengers compared with 5.3 million last year, the management said. «Around 40-50 percent of this year’s increase will be in mid-July to end-August,» Managing Director Odysseas Vlamis said. Athens is hosting the Summer Olympics, which start on August 13. The airline plans to lease four Boeing 737 jets with a capacity of 100 to 150 each, adding to its current fleet of 40 to cope with the Olympic traffic, he said. «I believe we will be ready (for the Games) by July,» Chairman Petros Papageorgiou told reporters. The airline, which launched with 1,850 staff, down from 6,100 at Olympic Airways, has enough personnel to handle the extra traffic, he said. Olympic Airlines has so far absorbed the global oil price increase and has not passed on extra costs to consumers in an effort to remain competitive. But a further jump in fuel costs could lead to a change of policy, Papageorgiou hinted. «We will consider ongoing developments in oil prices,» he said. The airline’s new chairman, appointed last month by the conservative government, said there could be another attempt to sell off the carrier in the autumn. «We need to look at the issue again and the conditions under which Olympic could be privatized,» he said. The carrier has a history of failed sell-offs – the last attempt was stalled by the March 7 national elections. The new government has said it will do everything possible to keep the airline flying. Olympic Airlines and Cyprus Airways will offer nine daily flights to the Cypriot resort of Larnaca, starting on June 21, as part of a code-sharing agreement, the management said. The Greek carrier and Cyprus Airways subsidiary Hellas Jet will extend their code-sharing deal with four weekly flights to Manchester, beginning June 21. (Reuters)