The Greek government has conditionally accepted Axon Airlines’ bid to purchase a controlling stake in Olympic Airways, the country’s flag carrier. Details of the buyout likely will not surface for up to three months, while talks take place between Axon and the Greek government on such matters as the controversial planned downsizing among the company’s 6,000 employees.
In April this year Axon acquired four 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s, opening routes from the new airport to the domestic destinations of Salonica–Greece’s second city and the country’s busiest route from Athens –and the islands of Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Samos and Mykonos. It plans further domestic destinations after the expected delivery of two more ERJ-145s by March next year at the latest. To bolster its domestic fleet, Axon Airlines is also contemplating the acquisition of the new 78-seat Embraer ERJ-170.
Privately owned Axon, headquartered in Athens, in July won status as the preferred bidder and, if negotiations prove successful, will acquire between 51- and 65 percent of Olympic, which remains deeply in debt. The airline’s situation deteriorated further following its costly transfer to the new Athens-Spata International Airport. Axon Airlines prevailed over Cyprus Airways and Australia’s Integrated Airline Solutions, the other two candidates selected by Crédit Suisse First Boston Bank, the government’s airline privatization advisor. The timing of the deal has become particularly important because a Greek airline will likely stand as the favored carrier for the next Olympic games, which take place in Athens in 2004.
Axon Airlines was established on paper in 1998 by Thomas Liakounakos, 54, the Greek millionaire who heads the Axon Holding Group, a conglomerate with activities in real estate, newspaper and magazine publishing, private medicine and leisure centers. Liakounakos serves as Boeing’s exclusive representative in Greece and the accredited supplier to the government of military aircraft and armaments. Axon in 1999 began regular services with two dual-class Boeing 737-400s from Athens-Spata with routes to Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Milan-Linate and Brussels-Zaventem and two single-class Boeing 737-700s based in Heraklion, on the island of Crete, for summer services and charter activities.
In addition to building its domestic network, Axon also envisions services to London, Madrid, Rome and Germany (Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Munich). At a later stage it hopes to connect Athens with Lyons and Nice in France and, possibly Salonica to Paris and Brussels. But all these plans depend on completion of the takeover of Olympic and discussions with its 20 or so militant unions.