Chances of saving Olympic are slim

Saturday December 8, 2007-Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis said yesterday that state-owned Olympic Airlines cannot be saved in its present form and should be replaced with a new company, as efforts for debt settlement with the European Union looked set for failure.

«We want to transfer (OA’s) name, logo and air slots to a new entity,» the minister told Parliament.

«Saving the company as it is today does not appear to have much chance of success,» he said.

Greece has spent years negotiating with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, on how to deal with OA’s long-running debts, estimated at 2.4 billion euros amid annual losses of 245 million euros.

But efforts to settle the debt and kickstart the company’s privatization have stumbled on the Commission’s refusal to accept Greece’s arguments for excusing hundreds of millions of euros in illegal Greek state aid to OA.

Under pressure from labor unions and a public that wants to see the airline founded by shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis keep flying, consecutive governments have tried and failed over the years to find a buyer for the loss-making carrier.

«Our first aim is to rescue the airline exactly as it is but this is not the most likely scenario,» added the minister.

Meanwhile, police scuffled yesterday with unionists attempting to force their way into the transport minister’s office to demand that the government rescue OA.

There were no reports of arrests.

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