Emirates denies bid to buy Olympic Airlines

DUBAI — Emirates Airlines yesterday denied reports about its move to buy the loss-making Greek carrier, Olympic Airlines, and said its focus was on keeping the current pace of growth.

By Isaac John (Chief Business Reporter)

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Published: Thu 23 Mar 2006, 9:56 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 3:37 PM

"We have placed orders for more than $30 billion worth of new aircraft. We have no interest, nor time for acquiring other airlines," said Mike Simon, Head of Corporate Communications, Emirates Airlines.

Simon was reacting to a report by Bloomberg yesterday which quoted Greek Skai Radio as saying "Emirates, the largest Arab airline, is interested in buying Greece's insolvent state-owned Olympic Airlines."

The Skai report said Emirates management met Greek Economy Ministry officials on March 18 to discuss the feasibility of participating in the sale process.

"We will be adding one new aircraft every month for the next eight years. So will be busy and have no time for looking out for acquisitions," Simon said. In November 2005, Emirates — the fastest growing global carrier — placed orders for 42 Boeing 777 aircraft in a deal worth Dh35.7 billion at the Dubai Air Show. That deal boosted Emirates' current aircraft order book to 132, with a total value of $37.4 billion.

Greece has been trying to sell Olympic since 2000 because of mounting losses and rising competition, with the last attempt collapsing after the European Commission ordered the company to return as much as $656 million in state aid. It followed a ruling from the European Court of Justice which said Greece did not do enough to recover illegal aid.

According to reports, Athens expects to complete the sale of Olympic Airlines at the earliest, and is now evaluating five binding bids for the carrier.

A Greek Transport Ministry source said the government would comply with the EC ruling in a way that would not jeopardise the latest attempt to sell off loss-making Olympic Airlines. "As a result of the court ruling, the Greek state is obliged to ask the airline to return the subsidies, a move which will put the company in a difficult position in view of its negative financial situation," the source said. It is not clear how the government will claw back the aid from debt-laden Olympic Airways.

Founded in 1957 by late ship-owner Aristotle Onassis, Olympic Airways — as the airline was known earlier —came under state ownership in 1975. The airline has cost taxpayers more than 2 billion euros in accumulated losses over the past decade, when there were two failed efforts to overhaul the operations and four attempts to sell it. Olympic operates services to 35 domestic and 32 international destinations.

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