The Start of Olympic
The story of Olympic Airlines began in 1930, when the state-run airline was created in Greece. This airline was called Icarus but soon went bankrupt, due to financial problems and limited Greek interest in air transport. After the airline went bankrupt G.C.A.T./Ε.Ε.Ε.Σ. (Greek Company for Air Transport/Ελληνική Εταιρεία Εναέριων Συγκοινωνιών) took its place. At the same time, in 1935, a second airline was created, the privately owned T.A.E. (Technical and Aeronautical Exploitations/Τεχνικαί Αεροπορικαί Εκμεταλλεύσεις). Soon after the World War II, in 1947, three airlines were based in Greece: T.A.E., G.A.T./ΕΛΛ.Α.Σ. (Greek Air Transport/ΕΛΛηνικαί Αεροπορικαί Συγκοινωνίαι) and Hellenic Airlines/Α.Μ.Ε. (Αεροπορικαί Μεταφοραί Ελλάδος).
Soon after, in 1951, the poor financial state of all three airlines led to a decision by the Greek state to merge the three airlines into one, Hellenic National Airlines T.A.E. The new airline faced serious financial problems so the government closed it down in 1955. No one was interested in buying the airline so the Hellenic State bought the company back. In July 1956 an agreement was made between the Hellenic State and Greek shipping-magnate Aristotle Onassis, to sell the company. The company flew under the name T.A.E. until the end of the year and for the first few months of 1957, when, on April 6th, 1957, Olympic Airways/Ολυμπιακή Αεροπορία was officially born. Suddenly, everything changed. Large billboards, posters and advertisements featuring the Olympic Airways' aircraft in exotic places were filling every ticket agent and airports around the world. Every day, Olympic Airways thought of something new, just to impress its passengers. Many international designers worked to create the crew uniforms, such as Pierre Cardin. Onassis also created several programs for people who were afraid to fly. He created a program called "The Aviation Days of '57". Every Sunday, a DC-3 was available for every passenger for a short flight to demonstrate the safety of flying. Of course, Onassis took great advantage of the company's records. He used all means to advertise a new flight time record, or the company's safety, or the exquisite in-flight service. He demanded that the entire personnel would make every passenger's wish come true with utmost politeness.
Olympic in the 1960s
The new company developed rapidly. In 1960 the first jet aircraft of OA entered into service, the De Havilland Comet 4B. In 1962, one of those Comets managed to complete the London - Athens route in just 2 hours and 50 minutes, setting a new speed record. At the same time, Olympic and British airline BEA agreed to create the first codeshare flights. Later on, the companies expanded their cooperation. When Hellenic crews had to spend their night at London, British crews would fly the Greek Comets at BEA destinations, and the same thing would happen with Greek crews and British Comets. On all BEA and OA Comets, there would be a "BEA-OLYMPIC" sign. In 1965, Olympic placed its first orders for the new Boeing 707-320 jet aircraft.Olympic was the 84th buyer of the B707,thus all Boeing aircraft delivered since then to Olympic have the code "84" e.g. B707-384, B727-284, B747-284 etc. The first B707 was delivered in 1966, bearing the name "City of Athens"("Πόλις των Αθηνών"). The nonstop route Athens - New York City (JFK Airport) was the first to be launched. At the same time Olympic opened its new first class lounge at JFK Airport, being one of the few airlines that had this luxury. Very soon, Olympic became one of the leading airlines of Europe. In 1968, the first routes to Africa were launched and OA received the first Boeing 727-200 jet aircraft. In 1969, OA launched a route to Canada and phased out the Comet 4Bs. When the first B707 started flying, Onassis thought of adding a piano in the first class cabin, for passengers to enjoy perfectly performed melodies on board. He offered golden knives, spoons and crystal glasses and plates, in a first class service that many celebrities and important businessmen used at the time.
Olympic in the 1970s
In 1970, OA purchased the new NAMC YS-11 turboprop aircraft to replace the ageing Douglas DC-3 , used throughout the domestic network of the company. In 1971, Olympic Aviation/Ολυμπιακή Αεροπλοϊα was created, so that the Greek islands could be more efficiently served. In 1972 Greece was linked to Australia for the first time. One of the Boeing 707-320s, called "City of Athens", landed after 20 hours of flight at Sydney airport.
Olympic then purchased its first Boeing 720-051B jet aircraft, a derivative of the Boeing 707, as well as the first Boeing 747-200 OA was also interested in the new supersonic aircraft BAC-Aerospatiale Concorde, and on January 5th, 1973, a Concorde landed at Athens International Airport for a demonstration.
On 22 January 1973, an incident occurred that dramatically changed the future of OA. The death of Aristotle Onassis' son, Alexander, in a plane crash came as a shock to Greek people and marked the beginning of the end for Olympic Airways. A few months later, Onassis sold all of the OA shares to the Greek state and died shortly after, in 1975. In 1976, under the state management, OA purchased the first Boeing 737-200 jet aircraft and created Olympic Catering, which served both OA and foreign airlines. In 1977, in a cost-cutting effort, OA shut down the Australia route, followed by the Canadian one in 1978, when OA also placed its first orders for the new Airbus aircraft, the Airbus A300B4.
Olympic in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s
In 1984, two more B747-200 aircraft were purchased from Singapore Airlines, and the Canada and Australia routes were reopened. A new Olympic Airways Cargo division was created, by converting the Boeing 707-320 "City of Lindos", but the plans were soon abandoned. In 1986, the worst strikes in the history of OA occurred whilst financial losses mounted.
The company has faced serious financial trouble since the 80s, mostly because of its dubious management. In fact, the management has not only been haphazard but the airline was used as an employment provider for politically connected individuals, and was severely indebted as a result. Olympic Airways is an example of the corruption and politically motivated management that persists in many Greek state enterprises. Furthermore, Greek politicians and their families travelled free on the airline or for token amounts. Greek governments also made Olympic carry the press with a 97% discount. Olympic Tourist was created as a subsidiary of OA, which issues tickets not only for OA, but for other airlines as well.
At the start of the 1990s a nonstop route to Tokyo was launched but soon shut down due to limited passenger interest and heavy losses. Olympic purchased new Boeing 737-400 aircraft in 1993, as well as the advanced version of the A300, the A300-600R. Due to the rising losses and debts, the government decided to formulate a restructuring program in which all debts were erased. This program, as well as all the plans that followed, failed. A few years later, in an attempt to make OA profitable, its management was given to the subsidiary of British Airways, Speedwing. The result was even larger debts and rising losses. In 1999, Olympic purchased four new Airbus A340-313X aircraft, to replace the ageing B747-200.
By December 2003, the Olympic Airways Group of Companies owned Olympic Airways (Ολυμπιακή Αεροπορία), Olympic Aviation (Ολυμπιακή Αεροπλοϊα), Macedonian Airlines (Mακεδονικές Αερογραμμές), Galileo Hellas (Γαλιλλαίος Ελλάς), Olympic Fuel Company (Ολυμπιακή Εταιρεία Καυσίμων), and Olympic Into-Plane Company. Olympic Catering had been sold a few months earlier. A company formed in the 80s called Olympic Tourist (Ολυμπιακή Τουριστική) had already been transformed into Macedonian Airlines.
Very soon, the losses recorded exceeded all expectations, so in 2003 the government decided to restructure the Olympic Airways Group of Companies. The subsidiary, Macedonian Airlines S.A., was renamed Olympic Airlines S.A. and took over the flight operations of Olympic Airways, erasing at the same time all of the airline's debts. The remaining group companies, except for Olympic Aviation (Olympic Airways, Olympic Into-Plane Company, Olympic Fuel Company, Olympic Airways Handling and the Olympic Airways Technical Base), merged and formed a new company, called Olympic Airways - Services S.A.. In December 2004, the Hellenic Government decided to privatise Olympic Airlines, but the sale process ended in failure, as no one of the buyers was eager to repay almost 500 million Euro back to the Greek State, as the European Committee decided.
On September 28, 2009, Olympic Airlines officially shut down. A new airline - Olympic Air - with fewer destinations and much fewer staff members, commenced operations the following day, though its first official commencement day was October 1.
Incidents and accidents
- October 29, 1959: An Olympic Airways Douglas Aircraft Company DC-3 crashed near Athens, Greece. All 18 passengers and crew (15 passengers and 3 crew members) perished
- December 8, 1969: An Olympic Airways Douglas DC-6 crashed near Keratea, Athens, Greece. All 90 passengers and crew (85 passengers and 5 crew members) perished
- February 18, 1972: An Olympic Aviation Learjet crashed off the coast of Monte Carlo. All 2 crew members were killed.
- October 21, 1972: An Olympic Airways NIHON YS-11 crashed off the coast of Voula, Athens, Greece. 37 passengers and crew (36 passengers and 1 crew member) drowned, while 16 passengers and 3 crew members were rescued.
- November 23, 1976: An Olympic Airways NIHON YS-11 crashed near Kozani, Greece. All 46 passengers and 4 crew members perished.
- August 3, 1989: An Olympic Aviation Shorts 330 crashed near Samos Airport, Greece. All 31 passengers and 3 crew members were killed.
OA operates a network of 13 intercontinental destinations, 28 European destinations and 36 domestic destinations.
The Olympic Airlines fleet consists of the following aircraft (at February 2008):
- 4 Airbus A340-300
- 14 Boeing 737-400 (7 owned,7 leased)
- 2 Boeing 737-300 (leased)
- 6 ATR 72 (4 owned,2 leased from ATR)
- 7 ATR 42 (owned)
- 4 De Havilland Canada Dash 8-100
The average Olympic Airlines fleet age is 12.8 years old in April 2006.
- Douglas DC-3
- Douglas DC-4 Skymaster
- Douglas DC-6
- De Havilland Comet 4B
- Boeing 707-320
- Boeing 727-200
- NAMC YS-11
- Learjet 25
- Shorts SC7 Skyvan
- Britten-Norman Islander
- Boeing 720-051
- Yakovlev Yak-40
- Boeing 747-200
- Boeing 727-30
- Boeing 737-200
- Airbus A300-B4
- Shorts 330, *Dornier Do 228, *AirbusA300-605R, *Boeing 717-200