|The government has apparently committed that the ‘new’ Olympic Airlines will be no bigger than 65% of the existing airline’s size. What this means for the airline’s route network is currently unclear.|
Like its Mediterranean near-neighbour Alitalia, Greece’s state-owned national carrier, Olympic Airlines, should long ago have been consigned to the dustbin of aviation history. Almost never profitable during its 51-year existence and burdened by over-staffing and troublesome unions the airline is once again in the process of trying to engineer a fresh start some time in early 2009. This will apparently require a private minority investor though given the airline’s track record how any investor thinks they will benefit from such a deal remains unclear. The government has apparently committed that the new carrier will be no bigger than 65% of the existing airline’s size. What this means for the airline’s route network is currently unclear.
Meanwhile the airline lumbers on with a mixed fleet of long-haul Airbus aircraft, 19 737s of various types and 14 ATR72 and four Dash-100 turboprops. Passenger numbers peaked in 1997 at just over seven million.
In recent years passenger numbers have hovered around the six million mark with annual average load factors close to 70%. Seasonality plays a major role in the airline’s operations as Greece is a popular summer-sun destination for many northern Europeans.
Since the start of the summer season in April, passenger numbers have been down around 11% year-on-year, though load factors have been up on 2007 figures.
Only just bigger than Aegean in Athens
Olympic is still just about the biggest carrier at Athens airport. Based on current schedule data it has around a 32.2% share of seat capacity compared with Aegean Airlines’ 30.5%. It serves 63 destinations whereas Aegean serves just 27 at present. Of the 63 destinations served by Olympic, 32 are domestic routes which account for around two-thirds of the airline’s weekly flights but only just over half of its seat capacity. Aegean operates 16 domestic routes from Athens.
Increasing competition on international routes
Among Olympic’s 31 international routes from Athens there are three non-stop long-haul services to New York JFK, Montreal and Johannesburg. It no longer operates any long-haul services to Asia. Its biggest international routes (in terms of seat capacity) are London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Larnaca and Rome Fiumicino all of which it serves at least twice daily.
However, competition is increasing on some of these major European routes. Aegean started twice-daily flights to London Stansted in mid-May and is increasing frequency to thrice-daily this winter. Aegean is also starting daily service to Paris CDG in November which will become double-daily in March. Further competition on London routes comes from British Airways (to Heathrow) and easyJet (to Gatwick and Luton). easyJet also provides competition on routes to Paris along with Air France, while Aegean and Cyprus Airways also compete on flights to Larnaca.
Other LCCs providing competition to Olympic in Athens include clickair, Germanwings, MyAir, Norwegian, SkyEurope, Sterling, Volareweb and Vueling. Notably missing from this list is Ryanair which, as yet, does not fly to any destinations in Greece. Not being a member of any global alliance is a further handicap to Olympic’s attempts to attract non-Greek passengers to use the airline.