Gov’t works on Olympic solution

The government hopes to hand over the management of Olympic Airlines (OA) to private investors within 2008 and keep the air carrier flying despite its crippling debts, Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said yesterday. «With an agreement from the European Commission. .. we will approach investors who will undertake the management of the company,» Hatzidakis said after meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. The government has repeatedly attempted and failed to privatize the loss-making airline which costs the taxpayer about one million euros per day. Senior officials have admitted that the company cannot keep flying in its present form. According to sources, Greece is preparing to reactivate the Pantheon Airways scheme to provide a successor to Olympic Airlines. The plan involves handing over the operations and rights of OA to Pantheon and conducting a voluntary retirement scheme to reduce its staff by about 2,300 employees. «It is obvious the company has a structural problem to which we must admit. It is the only (airline) company in the whole of Europe that is 100 percent state-owned,» added the minister. Olympic’s financial problems have been steadily getting worse as the airline industry struggles under the weight of rising oil prices. From 42 planes available at the end of 2007, OA found itself with only 36 at the end of May, after the expiry of several aircraft leases. It has since added two Boeings to the fleet and was expected to deploy one more by mid-August. Last week it announced it will ax as of mid September its loss-making Thessaloniki-Gatwick service and cut back on another four international flights to reduce costs. The airline said it has incurred annual losses of 3.6 million euros from the route to London’s Gatwick Airport.