Twelve suitors for OA

Greece’s last-ditch effort to unload a revamped, leaner version of the debt-ridden state carrier, Olympic Airways, has attracted a dozen tentative suitors, the government said yesterday. A Finance Ministry statement said 12 business groups have expressed a non-binding interest in acquiring a majority stake in the new company, which is to be renamed Olympic Airlines and delivered debt-free and with a much trimmer work force to private investors. «Once interested parties are handed all relevant data on the New Olympic Airways, the process will enter the next phase which involves the submission of binding offers,» the statement said. The ministry did not name the 12 suitors, which are expected to include at least two Greek businessmen. However, the head of the Olympic pilots’ union, Christos Stamoulis, told journalists that the list included «two US groups, Chrysler Aviation and Olympic Investors, [Spain’s national carrier] Iberia and two Greek shipowners.» Iberia promptly denied this. There were no further reactions. Amid strikes by Olympic flight attendants who oppose the restructuring and privatization, Parliament passed on September 4 a new law under which the old Olympic Airways will be broken up and its flight operations handed over to a trimmer firm, Olympic Airlines, which will be unencumbered by debt. Olympic ended 2002 some 512 million euros in the red. Furthermore, the new company will only employ some 1,800 people, with the rest of the carrier’s 6,100 staff staying on with the old company and offering services to the new one in a juggling act by which the government intends to ensure that no jobs are lost. The old company will retain control of ground services as well as cargo and technical services. The government is seeking to sell off at least 51 percent of the company, which was founded in 1957 by Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and was nationalized in the late 1970s. The new company’s share capital is estimated at 140 million euros, calculated from its assets – including aircraft, real estate and the six-circle logo. Previous bids to privatize the company in its old form failed dismally.