OA to keep its wings?

With a vital European Union decision on Olympic Airlines’ (OA) future expected tomorrow, the government said yesterday that the national air carrier will continue to fly regardless of whether Brussels rules the company has received illegal funding. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said that the state is looking into its options regarding the airline, which may soon be required to pay back more than 500 million euros in state aid. «The procedures being examined today – concerning either its sale or its liquidation in operation – are time-consuming. During this period, Olympic will continue to fly,» he said. The liquidation in operation would involve the government selling the company’s assets while maintaining its services. Tomorrow the EU is expected to release the findings of a probe into possible state aid provided to OA by the previous government in 2003. EU laws ban state subsidies to airlines and companies that received such funds are required to repay them. If ordered to repay the aid, Olympic could be effectively forced to close down after 48 years of operation. Greece has repeatedly tried to sell the airline but all four previous attempts have failed. Roussopoulos pointed the finger at the previous Socialist government and said that the last two attempts to privatize the airline cost the state 2 billion euros. He added that OA costs taxpayers 1.5 million euros on a daily basis. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said on the weekend that, regardless of the decision this week, the 8,000 workers at the airline will not find themselves on the street and will be transferred to other public sector positions. Greek media were reporting late yesterday, citing unnamed sources in the European Commission, that the airline will be required to pay back the funding. Union groups and opposition political parties have slammed the government, saying that the possible shutdown of OA is the result of a political decision rather than it not being commercially viable. Meanwhile, the company reassured travelers yesterday that flights will continue as scheduled.