Gov’t to set up ministerial committee on Olympic Air

Greece’s government will establish a committee of ministers this week and hire advisers with the aim of finding a buyer to keep indebted Olympic Airlines flying. Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis will head a committee of ministers to coordinate the effort «with the aim by the end of 2008 of finding a viable solution for a new healthy Olympic Air,» he said yesterday after meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in Athens. Hatzidakis has said he’s speaking with the European Union’s executive commission about closing the airline and restarting it free from its estimated debt of -2.5 billion ($3.7 billion). The company would keep its name, airport slots and logo of six interlocking rings. «We want the rings; we want the name,» Hatzidakis said today, according to an e-mailed transcript of his comments from the ministry. «We believe we will manage to keep those. We don’t want the deficits.» Greece is trying to find a way to keep its biggest airline flying even as the European Commission investigates whether the company has received state aid. In December, the EU opened a new probe into Greek government support to Olympic, saying extra aid may have violated EU competition rules. The EU has already ordered Greece to recoup at least -130 million in illegal state aid the company received before 2004. Greece has still failed to enforce that decision, the Commission said last year. Olympic is not allowed to receive any state support because one-time aid for Olympic Airways, its predecessor, was approved in the 1990s. Workers at the carrier oppose a sale to investors and have threatened to disrupt air traffic across the country if the company is shut down and reopened over its debt. The Commission is under pressure to act on Olympic from Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount airline. Ryanair has lodged complaints against the EU’s executive regarding illegal state subsidies to four carriers, including the Greek company.