Ten companies interested in Olympic Airlines

At least 10 investors have shown interest in the privatization of each of the three units of ailing flag-carrier Olympic Airlines, Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said yesterday. The government launched a tender in September to split the lossmaking carrier into three parts – airline services, ground handling and technical maintenance – and sell them off. «Six of them have shown interest in all three parts of the tender,» said the minister. The names of the interested investors were not announced but are expected to be made public later this week. «There are European companies, and I may also say airlines, as well as investment funds interested (in the sale),» Hatzidakis said. «So there are no misunderstandings, Aegean and Lufthansa are not interested.» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said last week Qatar Airways was among the companies interested in the sale. Investors had until the end of October to express initial interest. Olympic, which is accumulating losses of nearly 2 million euros a day, has been at the center of protracted rows between Greece and the European Commission over state aid. Previous attempts at privatization have broken down. «We are satisfied. Never in the past, in an Olympic privatization process, has such initial interest been expressed,» Hatzidakis told reporters, adding that the companies’ offers were now being examined by a privatization committee. The conservative government wants to sell the airlines by the end of the year. The investor or investors chosen will be obliged to keep the name Olympic, the six-ring logo and the existing flight slots. Greek governments have spent years seeking private investors to take over Olympic Airlines, which is riddled with debt, but the process was complicated by the European Commission’s demand that the company repay illegal state aid. The EU in September gave the green light for Greece’s plans to privatize the airline, but also said 850 million euros of illegal state aid must be returned.