Aegean offers concessions for Olympic deal, EU decision by April 23

BRUSSELS, March 26 Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:41am EDT

BRUSSELS, March 26 (Reuters) - Greece's Aegean Airlines has offered concessions to try to win approval for its second bid for rival Olympic Air, EU antitrust regulators said on Tuesday, extending their review of the takeover deal to April 23.

Aegean has said the 72-million-euro ($93 million) bid is key to its survival in Greece's shrinking air transport market, as the bailed-out country suffers a protracted recession.

The European Commission announced the new deadline for a decision on its website, but did not give details of the concessions offered, in line with its standard policy.

Aegean agreed to buy Olympic from Marfin Investment Group (MIG) in October.

Some antitrust experts said its chances of winning clearance may have improved due to its shrinking market share and the recent addition of Cyprus Airways routes into Greece.

But that argument might be undermined by an investigation opened by competition regulators earlier this month into state aid granted to the Cypriot airline.

The Commission blocked Aegean's 170-million-euro first bid two years ago to buy debt-ridden Olympic, because of the dominance the group would have had on the domestic market.

And the Commission, which acts as competition regulator in the 27-country European Union, last month rejected a third attempt by Ryanair to buy Aer Lingus, again citing the merged company's market dominance.

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

Olympic, founded in 1957 by the late shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, went into a steady decline after being operated for decades by the Greek government, saddling the state budget with losses.

The tourism industry accounts for about one in five jobs in Greece, making it a key part of economic recovery.

($1 = 0.7763 euros) (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter)

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