Barrot says OA running out of time

Greece is running out of time to find a formula to save troubled Olympic Airlines, European Union Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told an Athens newspaper. «The longer we take in finding a viable and legally strong solution, the bigger the danger that Olympic will disappear along with its name and logo,» Barrot was quoted as telling the Eleftheros Typos daily yesterday. The Greek government said for the first time on Friday that it was unlikely the carrier, which has been told by the European Commission to pay back hundreds of millions of euros in illegal state aid, could be rescued in its present state. Pressured by labor unions and the public, which have long opposed shutting down the airline founded by shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, consecutive Greek governments have tried and failed to privatize Olympic. Barrot suggested that the debt-ridden Olympic may adopt a model like Belgium’s Sabena, which was shut down and had some of its assets transferred to a smaller, private company which is now successful. «Only such a solution will allow the company to fly with the (same logo) in Greek skies,» Barrot was quoted as saying. Last month, budget airline Ryanair said it was suing the European Commission for failing to act on its complaint that the Greek government provided illegal state aid to Olympic. «At this stage and despite efforts made by Greek authorities, I think it is very difficult to conclude that Olympic has paid back all illegal aid it has received and that it does not continue to receive aid,» Barrot said. The Commission first ruled in 1996 that Olympic must pay back large amounts in illegal aid it received in the 1990s. Olympic Airways was split into two units in 2003, a debt-heavy services company and a debt-free carrier, Olympic Airlines. Brussels still regards it as one company.