The European Commission's air transport liberalisation programme can justly claim to have succeeded with its legal framework to allow airline competition.

To critical observers, the results can be clearly seen through improved attitudes to the passenger and to quality of service, aircraft condition and operational efficiency.

The architects of liberalisation understood that only through competition will standards improve. The classic recent example is that of Air France, which has changed beyond all recognition as other airlines have entered the lucrative French air transport market.

In Greece, the ending of EC-sanctioned protection for Olympic Airlines on 1 January heralded the entry of new carriers intent on providing better scheduled services than the national carrier. Without competition, Olympic has deteriorated into the kind of airline reminiscent of the pre-liberalisation days of other European nationalised carriers. Service is poor (cabin staff on international flights are still allowed to smoke), and the aircraft are shabby.

Foreign airlines are now competing for the management of Olympic. But with the arrival of fresh, determined competition (such as Aegean Airlines) intent on providing what has been missing from the Greek air transport market for so long, the writing may be on the wall for the national carrier.

The EC should also be congratulated on winning another monopoly-breaking battle - that of ground handling, which in Greece was, until this week, controlled by Olympic. The arrival of competition means that airlines will be free of reliance on an operation that put Olympic first and the rest later.

For the travelling public, the end of state control over the management of the Greek national airline has not come a moment too soon. For Olympic, however, it may have come too late.

Source: Flight International