State-owned Olympic Airlines (OA) could be headed for liquidation rather than being shut down in a move that will help protect the employment positions of its thousands of employees, according to Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis. Hatzidakis told Sunday’s Kathimerini in an interview that negotiations with the European Commission and OA are expected to wind up in 2008 but that many possibilities are still open. «I have not used the word ‘shutdown.’ Declaring insolvency leaves the workers unprotected. Insolvency is legally different from liquidation. If, of course, we reach this stage,» said the transport minister. Last week, Hatzidakis said the government will replace OA with a trimmed-down «healthier» air carrier in coming months in comments widely interpreted as meaning the company will be closed. «We may for some reason have certain developments that will avoid reaching even this (liquidation) and the company may be sold debt-free,» he said without adding further details. The minister’s comments follow a recent meeting in Brussels with EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot after a complaint had been lodged by Ireland’s low-cost carrier Ryanair Holdings against the European Commission concerning Olympic. The complaint charges that the Commission has failed to recover hundreds of millions of euros in unlawful state aid to Olympic. Greece has spent years negotiating with the European Commission on how to deal with OA’s longstanding debts, estimated at 2.4 billion euros amid annual losses of 245 million euros. The minister reiterated that the government will protect OA jobs which number around 10,000, including full-time, part-time and contract workers. «Some of them will be offered voluntary retirement, while others will be transferred to other state services. Others will be absorbed by the new company,» he said. The airline continues to operate as normal and said last week that bookings are currently at normal seasonal levels.