Qatar Air, US firm eyeing Greece's Olympic Air-paper

ATHENS Sat Nov 1, 2008 7:39am EDT

ATHENS Nov 1 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways and a US aircraft charter firm were among the interested parties for the sale of Greece's state-owned Olympic Airlines, daily Naftemporiki reported on Saturday.

Citing unnamed sources, the paper said Qatar Airways, US aircraft charter firm Chrysler Aviation, Greek-US investors consortium York Capital/Olympic investors and a consortium of Greek shipowners and private equity funds have expressed initial interest in the ailing airline.

Greece's conservative government launched a tender in September to split the loss-making carrier into three parts, the airline services along with the ground handling and the technical maintenance units, and sell them off. Investors had until the end of October to express an interest to bid.

Five firms, including Goldair, Chrysler Aviation and Spain's Swissport and Flight Care, have submitted interest for Olympic's ground handling services, the paper added.

Officials at Greece's Transport Ministry declined to comment on the report.

The government said on Friday it would announce Olympic's short-listed applicants early next week. Interested parties will then be allowed to conduct due diligence on Olympic and submit non-binding bids by the end of the month.

Greece aims to conclude the tender by the end of 2008, ending years of failed attempts to privatise Olympic.

The plan has been approved by the European Commission, which agreed to suspend action over illegal state subsidies if the sale went ahead.

Lazard, NBG International, Alpha Bank and Emporiki Bank are advising the government on the tender.

In an article in another newspaper, Greek Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis defended the 1.3 billion euro plan for the sale of Olympic, saying the privatisation would be to the Greek people's benefit.

"Greek taxpayers will be benefited, as they will have to pay much less money than what they would pay if we kept the current ailing and loss-making Olympic," Hatzidakis wrote in Kathimerini newspaper.

Olympic Airlines carried 6.2 million passengers in 2007 to 36 cities and islands in Greece and 37 destinations in Europe, Asia, North America and Africa. It has losses of over 2 million euros a day. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; editing by Chris Pizzey)

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