With or without Olympic Airways, Axon Airlines, which has emerged as the frontrunner in a privatization tender for Olympic Airways, intends to grow by leaps and bounds. The two-year-old airline last month took formal delivery of five new aircraft – two Boeing 737-400s and three 50-seat Embraer ERJ 145s. The former, because of their size and economy, are considered ideal for the Greek domestic market.
Axon began flying in June of 1999 with two Boeing 737-700s to Paris, Milan and Brussels. This year, its fleet of four Boeings will fly from Heraklion to most European destinations, and its three new Embraer jets – a fourth is expected this fall – fly to domestic points Heraklion, Athens, Thessaloniki, Rodos, Chania, Mykonos, Santorini and Samos. Axon employs 380 people.
If the company is successful in its bid for Olympic, Axon most likely will merge the “national” carrier. Axon’s major shareholder, Thomas Liakounakos, says his airline could also operate as a separate company.
In any case, he says that if he gets Olympic he will create a new limited company with capital of 70 billion drachmas, which will most likely be named New Olympic, in order to buy aircraft and installations owned by Olympic Airways.
The government opened negotiations with Axon Airlines last month after it received the best marks in a tender to privatize a majority holding in the national carrier. Negotiations must be completed within 35 working days. A committee comprising representatives of the state’s Council of Law, the tender consultants and the ministries of national economy, finance and transport is conducting them.
At the same time, the government is also in touch with two of the other bidders -Cyprus Airways and Integrated Airline Solutions of Australia- in order to check the consortiums’ finances and that their members are still committed. Rumor has it that the Cyprus and Integrated are now talking about a cooperation deal for the Olympic buyout. Meanwhile, Mr. Liakounakos says his company proposes trimming Olympic’s staff, salaries and flights, while investing $1.5 billion in new aircraft. Axon wants to cut staff by 30% and cut 16 of Olympic’s 96 destinations. He also wants a five-year peace agreement with Olympic employees. He says Olympic has 200 employees per aircraft while Axon averages 60 employees per aircraft.
And as far as cutting destinations is concerned, he says agreements would be made with other carriers to ensure all world destinations are covered by Olympic. As an example, he says he wold cut out Australia but sign an agreement with an airline such as Thai to carry Olympic passengers from Australia to Bangkok where Olympic will continue to fly.
He adds that an important part of his business plan includes major cooperation agreements with other airlines, but at present only Virgin Atlantic has shown interest. Cooperation in other areas, however, is going well.
Already, Axon has a cooperation agreement with an international handling company that has offices in 40 destinations around the world.