Greece's relevant minister on Tuesday took aim at one of only a handful of landmark privatizations finalized under the current leftist-rightist coalition government's watch, saying the consortium that took over 14 regional airports hasn't done a better job so far than the previous state-run managements.
Infrastructure and transports minister Christos Spirtzis was referring to the Fraport Greece consortium, after being asked on a radio program about reports of friction between the Greek state and the former. The timing of his comments was also striking, coming a day after a mining multinational gave the cash-starved government until Sept. 21 to overcome a host of regulatory and licensing obstacles blocking its investment, as it claims, otherwise threatening to suspend operations in Greece - which rank as the biggest production investment in the country.
"Fraport hasn't operated the airports better than how the Civil Aviation Authority ran them," Spirtzis, who is elected to Parliament from the Thessaloniki area, said when asked about upgrades and maintenance scheduled for the runways of Thessaloniki's Macedonia Airport.
He also claimed that the consortium, which wrote a check for 1.23 billion euros to the Greek state last March, hasn't proceeded with investments stipulated in the concession contract.
In a response issued later in the evening, Fraport Greece underlined that the country's all-important tourism sector, and especially local economies, would have been devastated if whatever upgrades and infrastructure works had started in the middle of the peak summer holiday season.
The consortium also dismissed Spirtzis' initial criticism, saying it never wanted or wants to "suggest" what decisions the government takes.
The German-Greek company also said nearly 5,500 upgrades and maintenance works were completed at the 14 airports since April 11, all judged as absolutely necessary and without inconveniencing passengers and employees.
In terms of numbers, Fraport pointed out that in its first season of managing the airports it handled 2.5 million more passengers than the corresponding figure in 2016.
Without mincing its words, the company also charged that the government and all relevant state services are fully aware of the timetable for implementing Fraport's 400-million-euro investment in the airports - above the 1.234 billion paid for the 40-year concession.
As planned, the company said in a press release, upgrades and construction works are set to begin in the autumn.
"As such, there is absolutely no delay in implementing these works, or in Fraport Greece's planning. The works can only begin after first being approved by the ministry and under the 14 master plans that Fraport Greece has already submitted," the press release concluded.
During his radio interview, Spirtzis even took the concessionaire to task over the state of the airport lavatories.
"... we even have problems with sanitation in the WCs, which in many (of the 14) airports are worse than those we remember and which existed in the past," he said.
Spirtzis' annoyance apparently stems from alleged Fraport's pressure on the Greek state to complete several infrastructure works related to the concession contract, even saying as much.
"It (Fraport) should leave aside its various suggestions over how and what projects will take place, as these projects are foreseen in the contract and are a requirement for the Greek state; they are co-financed and have been approved ... by the EU Commission and the regulatory bodies that supervise them," he added.
Various changes in the timetable for runway upgrades at the Thessaloniki airport have arisen since the spring, with the most recent change in plans coming in order to avoid delays during the summer.
The state-managed Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF), Greece’s memorandum-mandated privatization agency, selected the Fraport-Copelouzos consortium as a preferred bidder in November 2014 for the 40-year operating concessions, for both Clusters A and B, based on the highest bid of 1.234 billion euros for both clusters.
Fraport and Copelouzos Group established their joint company, Fraport Greece, in 2015 to act as the concessionaire for the two concessions.
On Dec. 14, 2015, Fraport Greece signed contracts with the HRADF and the Greek state for the 40-year concessions for the two clusters. The contracts are based exactly on the same bid submitted by Fraport-Copelouzos and selected by HRADF in November 2014.
The consortium assumed the management of the 14 airports, which includes most of Greece's pre-eminent tourist destinations, in March 2017.