Unions see OA potential

Greece’s debt-laden Olympic Airlines has substantial growth potential in a booming industry with or without a long-sought private investor, union officials said yesterday. The government has been trying for years to sell the carrier, which is locked in a three-way legal wrangle with the European Commission and the Greek state over massive state aid, keeping the airline’s future hanging in the balance. Unions, which have long struggled to keep the company in state hands, oppose its possible closure. «This company has considerable growth potential,» Olympic’s pilots’ union head Grigoris Sinekoglou told Reuters. «We survived and kept our market share after September 11, 2001 when other airlines were folding. Now there is a boom in the airline industry,» he said. «But instead of growing we are shrinking, allowing our competitors to gain a stronger position.» Olympic Airlines is the successor of Olympic Airways, which in 2003 was split into two units: a debt-heavy services company and a then debt-free carrier. Brussels actually still regards it as one company. Olympic lost its commanding domestic position in 2006 to its main competitor Aegean Airlines, which won a 51 percent market share due to an aggressive expansion, more routes, newer planes and better services. «The future of the company rests solely on the political will of the government,» flight attendants’ union boss Taxiarchis Christou said. The government has pledged to do its best to save the company and sell it debt-free as it tries to work out a payment settlement with the European Commission. «We would welcome private owners if their plan is focused on growth and Olympic continues flying to five continents,» pilot’s union head Sinekoglou said.