Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis and Integrated Airline Solutions (IAS), the Australian consortium which is bidding to take over the debt-laden national flag carrier Olympic Airways, yesterday confirmed that ongoing talks on the issue are proceeding smoothly, refuting media reports suggesting otherwise. Verelis said that IAS – which has the backing of Olympic pilots, several prominent Greek businessmen and US group Halliburton – has already tripled its participation bond to 9 million euros. The figure represents some 9 percent of IAS’s proposed investment in New Olympic Airways (NOA), the airline company to be spun off from the existing venture, minus its debts. Talks between IAS and privatization advisor Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) are due to conclude at the end of the month. «We have asked IAS to deposit the full amount of its investment, that is, 102 million euros, into an escrow account at the end of the negotiations,» Verelis told reporters yesterday after briefing Prime Minister Costas Simitis on the subject. A source close to IAS told Kathimerini English Edition that the consortium is confident of signing an agreement by the end of the month. He said that IAS members are due to present a list of its proposed management team for NOA to the minister and CSFB on Wednesday. They are expected to recommend a top executive from Australian airline Qantas to head the operation. The source said the consortium has no plans to cut back on NOA’s long-range flights despite losses from these routes. «IAS is proposing a controlled growth business plan for NOA which foresees the airline continuing to fly to the five continents,» he said. The consortium aims to turn around loss-making international routes by restructuring the network and rescheduling departure and arrival frequency, among others. «IAS will review these itineraries again after 18 months,» the source said. On the issue of personnel, the consortium plans to retain 5,000-5,200 permanent employees and 2,000-2,200 seasonal workers.