Thu, April 02, 2009
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Olympic aims to fly higher

2009-04-02 02:16:31 GMT2009-04-02 10:16:31 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

Reuters speaks exclusively to the new owner of Olympic Airlines, who talks about his plans for the once-gilded carrier founded by Aristotle Onasis.

It was once the pride of the Greek skies. When famous business tycoon Aristotle Onassis created Olympic Airways in 1957, it boasted designer uniforms, gold plated cutlery and global destinations.

But as oil prices hiked, so did costs, and Onassis sold the airline to the state in 1974.

Since then, mounting debts and mismanagement at the airline have been costing the Greek taxpayer some one million euros a day for the airline to operate.

But attempts to privatize the carrier constantly failed, including the last international tender in January.

Finally Greece appealed to local businessmen, and Marfin Investment Group, Greece's largest investment holding, stepped in. Vice Chairman Andreas Vgenopoulos said he just couldn't imagine Greece without the historical airline but also, bought at a modest price and without the debt, it was a smart business venture.

(SOUNDBITE)(English) MARFIN INVESTMENT GROUP VICE CHAIRMAN ANDREAS VGENOPOULOS:

"It is very important for Greek tourism and the Greek economy overall to still have Olympic to fly, to satisfy its passengers and to satisfy the needs of tourism and the economy. And I might say its also important for the Greek society during this period of crisis to see that such an important brand name can be of use to somebody.On the other hand we also believe it's also a very good business."

But MIG takes on Olympic at a time when airlines are expecting losses due to the global financial crisis. Vgenopoulos says hes not worried and expects the airline to make a considerable profit in two years.

(SOUNDBITE)(English) MARFIN INVESTMENT GROUP VICE CHAIRMAN ANDREAS VGENOPOULOS:

"Crises usually go together with opportunities, as I have said before the Olympic venture for us is a start up business, a start up business in a period of time that planes are cheaper whether you buy them or you lease them, the personnel you can find in abundance, you can find very qualified personnel at very reasonable working terms or packages, and we have the luxury of scheduling our business plan factoring in the crisis."

Some like to compare Vgenopoulos to Onassis, as Marfin Investment Group makes headlines with one investment after another in several sectors, including shipping, but he shrugs off that title, saying cautious business sense is what counts.

Deborah Kyvrikosaios, Reuters, Athens

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