Change of OA flight plan

The government said yesterday it will replace state-owned Olympic Airlines with a trimmed-down «healthier» air carrier in the coming months and pledged to protect the employment positions of its large work force. Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said a new company will replace Olympic Airlines (OA), which is costing the government 250 million euros per year, but stopped short of announcing specific details. «Unfortunately there are no magic formulas,» said the minister. «This is why we are fighting for a new healthier company, a new Olympic that will withstand competition and offer passengers the ability to choose without placing a burden on taxpayers.» The minister’s comments follow last week’s meeting in Brussels with EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot and a recent legal complaint by Ireland’s low-cost carrier Ryanair Holdings against the European Commission concerning Olympic. The complaint, filed late last month, charges that the Commission has failed to recover hundreds of millions of euros in unlawful state aid to Olympic. Hatzidakis said he needs more information regarding the Commission’s position before announcing what exact steps Greece will take regarding Olympic. «I don’t have all the information in order to take a position on this issue. I want to have all the information from the side of the European Commission,» he said. According to government sources, Brussels is strongly in favor of Greece adopting the so-called «Sabena» model for the Greek airline. The Belgian airline had been shut and reopened on a much smaller scale within 20 days. A similar scheme with Olympic would mean a much smaller private concern, which the Commission wants confined to domestic flights. Hatzidakis repeated the government’s commitment to protect some 9,000 jobs at Olympic Airlines and maintain links to the country’s many islands. The Commission has twice taken Greece to court demanding the return of over 700 million euros in unlawful state subsidies to the carrier.