NEWS

Final chance for OA

A revamped Olympic Airlines will start flying in April next year, state television reported yesterday. The Greek government yesterday submitted a bill that aims at relaunching state carrier Olympic Airlines after the fifth attempt to privatize the company fell through earlier this week. The revamped airline will be majority owned by private investors, Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis told Parliament. «The government is resorting to the only solution of setting up a new airline from scratch without repeating the statist interventions of the past,» he said in the statement introducing the draft bill. The bill does not specify the name of the new airline. But government sources have said the relaunched carrier would keep the word «Olympic» in its name and its five-ring trademark logo. What Liapis did not specify is how exactly private investors are to be convinced to put their money into an airline that may have to return up to 540 million euros in what the European Commission has termed illegal state subsidies to the airline. The opposition Socialists have concurred with the solution, leaving the two left-wing opposition parties to support the company’s once-powerful union in opposing it. Synaspismos Left Coalition President Alekos Alavanos attacked the solution, saying: «at the moment you are fixed on privatization and selling off the airline, European airlines are entering strategic alliances… perhaps the sort of airline you propose should be called Frankenstein Airways.» «There is no solution along the lines you propose and compatible with European law and competition. We have already entered into a dialogue with the unions; they themselves understand that we must close the wound that’s bleeding,» Liapis responded. Founded in 1957 by the late tycoon Aristotle Onassis, Olympic Airways, as it was called then, was nationalized in 1975 by the government of Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis, an uncle of both the current PM and of Liapis’s. Beginning in 1977, the company started a steady stream of deficits which was halted only once, in 1995. The then CEO, Rigas Doganis, was fired a few days after the results were announced, a victim of his contentious relationship with the unions.