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The Fascinating History of Olympic Airlines: From State Ownership to Privatization


Olympic Airlines, formerly known as Olympic Airways, holds a prominent place in Greek aviation history. From its establishment to its eventual privatization, the airline has undergone significant transformations. This article delves into the rich history of Olympic Airlines, exploring its early years, expansion, technological advancements, challenges, and the transition to Olympic Air.

In 1930, Icarus marked the humble beginnings of Greek commercial aviation. However, due to financial struggles and limited public interest in air transport, Icarus faced bankruptcy and closure within a few months. In 1935, two airlines emerged to fill the void: the Greek Company for Air Transport (Ε.Ε.Ε.Σ.) and T.A.E. (Τεχνικαί Αεροπορικαί Εκμεταλλεύσεις). These airlines aimed to serve domestic routes within Greece.

The first logo of Olympic, in 1957
The first logo of Olympic, in 1957

The airline landscape transformed in 1951 when the Greek government merged the three existing carriers into TAE Greek National Airlines (TAE). However, financial difficulties plagued TAE, leading to its closure in 1955. In 1956, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis stepped in and acquired the airline, renaming it Olympic Airways in 1957. Under Onassis' visionary leadership, the airline experienced rapid growth and introduced innovative aircraft and services.

Olympic Airways embarked on an ambitious expansion plan, adding new routes and destinations to its network. The introduction of the de Havilland Comet 4B in 1959 marked Olympic's first foray into jet aviation. This advanced aircraft, known for its speed and efficiency, allowed the airline to offer faster and more comfortable travel experiences. In 1965, Olympic Airways further modernized its fleet by introducing Boeing 707-320 jets, enabling the launch of the non-stop Athens-New York route.

The airline continued to expand its global reach, initiating flights to Africa and establishing a twice-weekly Athens-Nairobi-Johannesburg service in 1968. Additionally, Olympic Airways became known for its collaboration with British European Airways (BEA) on codeshare flights, further enhancing its international presence.

Following the untimely death of Aristotle Onassis' son, Alexander, in a plane crash in 1973, Olympic Airways faced a new set of challenges. A few months later, Onassis sold all shares of the airline to the Greek state. Financial difficulties persisted, leading to various restructuring attempts. Olympic Airways sought to address its debts and operational inefficiencies by purchasing new aircraft, including Boeing 737-200 and Airbus A300 models. However, management issues and mounting debts continued to burden the airline.

In December 2003, the Greek government implemented a comprehensive restructuring plan for the Olympic Airways Group of Companies. This resulted in the establishment of Olympic Airlines S.A. as the new flight operations entity, assuming the name of the previous airline. The remaining group companies, except for Olympic Aviation, merged to form Olympic Airways – Services S.A., responsible for various supporting services.

The Greek government initiated the privatization process for Olympic Airlines in 2005, aiming to alleviate financial burdens and facilitate the airline's future sustainability. However, despite initial interest from potential buyers, including Aegean Airlines and a Greek-American consortium called Olympic Investors, the privatization attempts faced significant hurdles. The European Commission's declaration of illegal state aid further complicated the process.

The airline continued to operate, but financial challenges persisted. In 2009, the Greek government announced the sale of Olympic Airlines' flight operations and technical base to Marfin Investment Group (MIG). This marked the end of state ownership after 35 years. As Olympic Airlines ceased operations, a new airline called Olympic Air emerged to take over its remaining flights and assets.

The history of Olympic Airlines is a story of ambition, challenges, and transformations. From its establishment as a state-owned carrier to the visionary leadership of Aristotle Onassis, the airline played a significant role in shaping Greek aviation. Despite facing financial struggles, Olympic Airways expanded its network, introduced cutting-edge aircraft, and provided luxurious travel experiences. The transition to Olympic Airlines and subsequent privatization paved the way for the emergence of Olympic Air, carrying forward the legacy of Greek aviation into the future.



  • Olympic Airlines, formerly known as Olympic Airways, was the flag carrier airline of Greece and operated for over 35 years until its closure in 2009.

  • The airline had a vast network, serving 37 domestic destinations and 32 international destinations worldwide, with Athens International Airport as its main base.

  • Under the leadership of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Olympic Airways experienced significant growth and modernization. It was the first airline to introduce jet aircraft, such as the de Havilland Comet 4B and Boeing 707, to its fleet.

  • Olympic Airways played a vital role in connecting Greece to the world, with notable routes including the non-stop Athens-New York City service and the Athens-Melbourne route via Bangkok and Singapore.

  • The airline faced financial challenges and management issues over the years, leading to its privatization attempts and eventual closure. The assets and flight operations were sold to Marfin Investment Group, and the new airline, Olympic Air, took over operations in 2009.

  • Throughout its history, Olympic Airlines prioritized passenger comfort and luxury, with stylish uniforms designed by Pierre Cardin and lavish amenities onboard.

  • The legacy of Olympic Airlines is significant in Greek aviation history, showcasing the country's efforts to establish a prominent national carrier and its contributions to the growth and connectivity of the Greek tourism industry.

  • Despite its closure, Olympic Airlines left a lasting impact on Greek aviation, paving the way for the development of Olympic Air and shaping the future of air travel in Greece.

  • Today, Olympic Airlines serves as a reminder of the rich aviation heritage of Greece and the achievements made during its operation as the national flag carrier.

  • The story of Olympic Airlines stands as a testament to the challenges and triumphs faced by an airline in a dynamic and competitive industry, leaving behind a legacy that will be remembered by aviation enthusiasts and travelers alike.


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