EU decision on Aegean, Olympic deal expected by April 9

BRUSSELS, March 1 Fri Mar 1, 2013 5:36am EST

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BRUSSELS, March 1 (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators will decide by April 9 whether to clear or block a second bid by Greece's Aegean Airlines to buy rival Olympic Air , two years after a failed attempt, the European Commission said on Friday.

Aegean has said the 72-million-euro ($94.13 million) proposed deal will ensure its survival in Greece's shrinking air transport market. Its chances of getting regulatory approval may have improved as it has lost market share and it faces a new rival, Cyprus Airways.

The Commission rejected Aegean's 170-million-euro initial bid in 2011 to buy the debt-ridden Olympic when it was privatised in 2009 because of the combined company's dominance of the domestic market.

The EU watchdog on Wednesday blocked a third attempt by Ryanair to buy Aer Lingus, again citing the combined company's market dominance.

The only time the Commission has cleared a deal after blocking it the first time was when packaging company Tetra Laval and its rival Sidel won approval in 2003 after a court challenge.

In its second attempt, Aegean agreed to buy Olympic from Marfin Investment Group (MIG) in October. It notified the EU Commission on Thursday.

Olympic, founded in 1957 by the late shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, fell into steady decline after being operated for many decades by the Greek government and burdened the state budget with losses.

Greece's tourism industry accounts for around one in five jobs in the country and is crucial to its economic recovery.

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