The encouraging noises that emanated from the management of Olympic Airways little more than 10 weeks ago have again faded as the the Greek carrier lost another managing director. The official line is that Theodore Tsakiridis resigned, but the speed of his departure bore the hallmarks of the political manoeuvring which has ousted a succession of previous leaders.

Losses of Dr38.9 billion ($136 million) for 1997 and predicted losses of up to Dr16 billion this year have led to the usual recriminations and accusations of incompetence. The new man in the hot seat, George Zygoyiannis, has barely had time to get his feet under the table and already major changes are imminent.

The Greek government has called for bids by foreign companies to assist in the management of the airline. Both British Airways' Speedwing Consultancy and Lufthansa Consulting are known to have lodged bids, which are being evaluated by Olympic's financial advisors Salomon Smith Barney and the National Bank of Investment and Industrial Development. A decision on the winning bidder is expected on 20 March.

One of the first tasks of the new team will be to return Olympic to sustainable profitability and attract a major alliance partner. A potentially more onerous job will be to get the pilots and ground staff unions on the airline's side.

The Hellenic Airline Pilots' Association (HALPA) is still at loggerheads with the airline over pilot recruitment and working hours. Having agreed to new work rules enshrined in law last April, which reduced time off for pilots from 11 to 9 days per month, the airline is seeking reduce free time to seven days.

This, says HALPA's president John Adhanassopoulos, is "unacceptable". The airline does "not seem to understand the seriousness" of the pilot shortage, he claims. Last summer 35% of Olympic's flying was undertaken on pilots' days off. On the carrier's own assessment, even if pilots only work 10% of their free time this season, it would need to recruit 87 more pilots in addition to the current 413.

Negotiations continue to wind their slow way towards a solution and will be one of the many headaches the new management advisors will have to contend with.

Nevertheless, this month will be heralded as yet another turning point in the chequered history of the Greek national carrier.

It remains to be seen whether the new management company will be allowed to implement the decisions needed to return the airline to profitability.

Source: Airline Business