Olympic Airlines sale hits turbulence

The number of bids submitted in the second stage of Olympic Airlines’ (OA) privatization was fewer than expected, despite strong interest in the initial phase of the sale process, according to Transport Ministry sources. The deadline for the submission of nonbinding offers expired last week. However, officials at the Transport Ministry remain tight-lipped regarding which companies were still in the running to buy the lossmaking airline, or at least a part of it. The government had launched a tender in September to split the carrier into three parts – airline services, ground handling and technical maintenance – and sell them off. In November, 13 investors had expressed interest in buying the flight operations of the state-run group, including Qatar Airways, Iberia, Chrysler Aviation, SkyOne and Swissport. Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said then that six of them had shown interest in all three parts of the tender. According to a Transport Ministry source, there are investors that showed interest in the first stage of the privatization but have since teamed up with another bidder for the second part. A government privatization committee is expected to meet today regarding the sale of the airline. 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 broke down. 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. In September the European Union gave the green light for Greece’s plans to privatize the airline, but also said 850 million euros in illegal state aid must be returned.

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