NEWS

‘Golden’ bid for OA

Golden Aviation, led by Greek shipowner Stamatis Restis, was yesterday selected as the preferred bidder for a majority stake in national flag carrier Olympic Airways, the Transport Ministry said. The company is seeking a 70 percent stake in Olympic Airways and has provided a financial guarantee for 150 million euros to back up its bid, a ministry spokeswoman said. «Negotiations are to commence immediately. We hope it will be a short process,» she said, without, however, specifying a time frame. Privately owned Aegean Airlines, selected as the second preferred bidder, will pick up the baton in the event Golden Aviation fails to make the grade. The airline, however, has come under fire from Olympic’s pilots who said the loss-making business hardly reflects a strong company able to rescue the national carrier. This will be Restis’s second shot at Olympic Airways. The shipowner was one of four bidders who made offers for the national airline in last year’s failed privatization attempt. It did not make it to the second round. Burdened by a mountain of debt, with an estimated loss of $80 million last year, Olympic has launched a restructuring plan since it failed to find an investor last year. It plans to drop loss-making long-range routes and sell off non-core activities. The government recently sold off a 58 percent stake in Olympic Catering, the airline’s catering subsidiary, raising 16 million euros. Galileo Hellas, the electronic seat reservation company, is next in line to be sold off. The government is determined to keep Olympic flying in view of the 2004 OIympic Games. The European Commission is currently looking into state subsidies granted to Olympic in 1994 and 1998 to see if they were misused. It has said the airline is not eligible for further state aid. Olympic is estimated to need a capital infusion of 150 million euros to keep it flying. It reported sales revenues of 159 million euros in the first nine months of the year, an increase of 24.7 percent. National Bank, Commercial Bank and Alpha Bank are advising the government on the privatization sale.