ECONOMY

Spata set to cut charges

Airlines using the Eleftherios Venizelos airport at Spata will see landing and parking charges reduced at the beginning of the new year, Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis said yesterday. Airport operator Athens International Airport (AIA) is expected to announce the size of the reductions this week. The rate reductions will be the second this year. AIA cut landing and parking charges by 5 to 60 percent in October in an effort to boost traffic, which plummeted in the wake of the September 11 events. Declining demand also led a number of airlines to cut back on unprofitable routes, dealing a further blow to AIA’s revenues. AIA’s decision to cut rates did little to mollify airlines and tour operators, who complained that the size of the reductions was not substantial enough. The airport operator, however, said its hands were tied by hefty loan payments and falling revenues. The minister said that AIA will be able to afford a second round of rate reductions as it will be allocated 10 percent more of the spatosima, the tax imposed on departing passengers at Spata and meant for airport development projects. The tax is presently split 75:25 between AIA and the Civil Aviation Authority. AIA will receive 90 percent of the spatosima instead of the current 75 percent effective January 1, 2002. The airport operator will thus have some flexibility to deal with the present crisis, Verelis stressed. AIA will enjoy the higher dues for a year. The minister said that loss-making state carrier Olympic Airways will be taking unprofitable flights off its itinerary early next year in response to the crisis in the global aviation industry. Since the September 11 events, the airline has slashed 20 percent of flights and cut its workforce. Olympic Airways management will decide on the size of the route cuts, Verelis said. Privatization advisor Credit Suisse First Boston is presently evaluating a bid from Australia’s Integrated Airline Solutions for 51-65 percent of the company. It is expected to submit a report to the government by December 23. The minister also announced plans to tender off more unprofitable island routes for next summer following in the footsteps of a previous competition held earlier this year. Traditionally serviced by state carrier Olympic Airways, unprofitable island routes have proved to be a heavy drain on the company’s resources, leading the ministry to offer the itineraries to smaller companies on a subsidized basis. Ten routes to islands such as Astypalaia, Icaria, Milos, Skyros, Karpathos, Kasos, Lemnos and Kasos were awarded to Olympic Aviation, a subsidiary of Olympic Airways, in the first tender. Belavia, a small company which lost out in the contest, subsequently filed a complaint with the Council of State. The administrative court is due to issue a ruling shortly. The subsidized route scheme is expected to go into operation on December 28. Verelis said the government will be subsidizing air travel for large families, needy students, farmers and conscripts among others after receiving the green light from Brussels. It is the citizens who must undertake the initiative for self-protection, comparing prices, being continuously alert and shunning speculators.