I would like to think of myself as an optimist but there is a difference between optimism and gullibility. Maybe we are so used to good news that we have lost the ability to ask questions.
Why did no one ask how governments can keep increasing their spending beyond the level of growth in the economy without increasing taxes? Did no one wonder how the banks were producing all the money that they were falling over backwards to lend?
On a more basic level, we seem to have no interest in questioning the rapid growth in some companies or where they are getting their profits or capital from. The most shocking thing about the Bernie Madoff scandal was not that some old people were tricked out of their fortunes but that supposedly wise investment houses in both the US and Europe were putting money into his Ponzi scheme without looking.
When companies collapse, there is an orgy of finger-pointing amongst government departments and vitriolic press headlines demanding why no one had taken action. Yet in so many cases, the danger signs were stunningly obvious – but no one bothered to point them out.
One of the long-running features of Inside Traveller has been our regular list of airlines that we feel have question marks regarding either their safety, reliability or financial stability. It is a tricky section to write because we have to be mindful of libel laws and we would never wish to throw mud at a growing company with sound management. Over the years we have chalked up a number of firsts including being the first British publication to suggest that Swissair’s survival was at serious risk many months before they went under.
Earlier this year, we made a brief mention of the Polish airline, OLT Express and its rapid growth in both the Polish and German markets where it has been on a buying spree taking on a number of struggling regional and charter operators. The airline is due to start services from Poland to the UK in the autumn and we said that they would not be our first choice should we wish to fly to Poland. It only took us a few minutes researching to see that there were some quite big question marks hanging over the company. Everything we have seen more recently has merely confirmed our original view.
This might sound strange because industry comment about the OLT group seems very positive. CAPA, a consultancy that calls itself “the leading provider of independent aviation intelligence” offering “unparalleled expertise and insight” produced a very positive review of the company’s growth plans and warned that LOT, Wizzair and Ryanair all had reason to be concerned. They pointed out that the company is owned by a “Polish Building Society, Amber Gold” which they no doubt took as a sign that there was plenty of money available to maintain this collection of airlines.
Does “Amber Gold” sound like the name of a bank or building society? Anyone spending just a couple of minutes with Google would find that it is not.
Amber Gold is a company that offers very high guaranteed returns to savers based on its investments in Gold and Platinum. The Polish financial authority has warned that they are not authorised to offer these guaranteed returns but they continue to operate. The company is run by a husband and wife but the husband appears to be banned from being a director due to some past financial issues. I will not go any further. There is plenty of information available if you want to look – but most of it is in Polish which might be why no one seems very interested.
OLT has just announced yet another acquisition in Germany. The German authorities might simply be so happy to have a new owner for an airline with an uncertain future that they feel it inappropriate to ask questions but what of the German press? Are they so thick they cannot work out that Amber Gold is unlikely to be the name of a building society and there might be a good story lurking in the background?
The very professional Swiss organisation, ch-aviation, is one of the few airline analysts to suggest that the ownership of OLT is not quite what it appears. They have built up detailed information on Amber Gold and its businesses which they have been showing to some German journalists. It could be quite a sexy story – planes, gold and sky-high guaranteed interest rates. They tell me that there has so far been little interest from journalists but they are now hopeful that a couple will take up the matter.
It is all rather depressing – maybe we have the governments and press we deserve.