OPINION

Editorial

Already under pressure from high costs and fierce competition, the world’s major airlines, in the wake of the terrorist assault in the USA, have been subjected to an additional blow which could prove fatal – at least to some of them. Sweeping aside all reservations about the negative effects of state subsidies, the USA has already approved 15 billion dollars in state aid to their financially ailing carriers, which have been hit by a decline in the number of passengers and additional premiums. Swissair and Sabena of Belgium will also receive bridge loans. At the same time, other major carriers have announced flight and personnel cuts while small airlines may have to shut down. In this volatile environment, and considering that we may see a return to state subsidies as well as the fact that Greek private carriers are on the verge of collapse, one would have expected the Greek government to have suspended and re-examined the plan for the privatization of Olympic Airways in order to weigh up the new factors and to examine which alliances can guarantee the survival of Greece’s air carrier in the future. At the time when the global situation for air carriers is changing so rapidly, it would be absurd to go ahead with a procedure which was hammered out in a parochial framework. And yet the Greek government insists on completing the privatization program according to plan, as if nothing had changed. And amid sweeping changes which are forcing big carriers to shut down and others turn to the hitherto forbidden practice of state aid, Olympic Airways seems to be heading toward Thomas Liakounakos’s Axon, whose finances are already in tatters while his offer, even if better than the others, is no bargain but rather the lesser of several evils. Experience has shown that Olympic Airways will never recover in state hands, thus a sale or partnership appear to be the only options. With all its problems, however, the national air carrier is a company with many assets and potential and cannot frivolously be sold off in an uncertain international environment. It would be wise to suspend the privatization of the carrier and re-examine the issue in the light of nascent global market conditions.