BEIRUT: After making headlines for long lines, systems failures and a security turf war, Beirut’s troubled airport is set to get an $18 million facelift, Lebanon’s transportation minister announced Wednesday.
Speaking during a televised news conference, caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos explained that the $18 million “will be used to improve the condition of the airport. ... There will not be an expansion.”
Fenianos said that the Council for Development and Reconstruction would implement the project.
Funding will come from the World Bank, part of a $200 million loan to finance various infrastructure and development projects in Lebanon. The loan was endorsed by Parliament during the legislative session on Sept. 25; Cabinet had approved the $18 million for the airport in February. Fenianos met with a delegation from the World Bank earlier Wednesday.
Earlier this year, engineering firm Dar al-Handasah submitted studies it had conducted on what can be done to decrease the congestion in the airport building, and the CDR will begin implementing the improvement plans using the $18 million, Fenianos said.
Dar al-Handasah had also pitched another plan to the government in January, which is aimed at expanding the airport. That plan is now estimated to cost $500 million, and its implementation is not slated to begin until 2020.
In his remarks, Fenianos said the $500 million expansion project will enable the airport to accommodate up to 25 million passengers annually.
Beirut’s airport is currently designed to handle up to 6 million passengers a year. However, the number of passengers traveling through it has exceeded its capacity every year since 2013. In August alone, over 1 million people passed through it.
However, the $18 million approved by Cabinet is just the start of the funds needed to improve the airport. “The airport improvements need $88 million, without [value-added tax]. The $18 million used now is part of the $88 million,” Fenianos said.
Fenianos also used his comments Wednesday to clarify the role his ministry plays in the implementation of projects: It does not receive the allocated money or handle contracts. “Everything goes to the CDR, so no one should say that the ministry is making [shady] deals,” he added.
The ministry, Fenianos said, was responsible only for raising public works issues before Cabinet. But, he continued, he would personally be present to monitor the work that was done, because “everyone is blaming the [public works and transportation] minister for the airport congestion.”
Fenianos also addressed an incident that occurred in September, when Beirut’s airport systems stopped functioning for about six hours. It left thousands of passengers stranded at and delayed many flights. Aviation technology developer SITA subsequently took full responsibility for the disruption.
Fenianos addressed the episode during the conference, saying that SITA had not caused it intentionally. “As some media outlets showed us, this incident can happen in any airport, and has previously happened at [London’s] Heathrow Airport.”
Regarding suggestions by MPs of establishing airports at the Qleiaat or Riyaq air bases, Fenianos said that he did not oppose having airports in either area, but that he could not make any decisions on airports before the Civil Aviation Authority was formed. The body was legislated in 2002 but has yet to be activated something that would require both political will and a new government to be formed.
“When the new [public works and transport] minister is assigned, the Civil Aviation Authority will be formed, and it can submit its reports regarding the airports,” Fenianos added.
Until the independent Civil Aviation Authority is formed, Lebanon’s nonmilitary air travel will continue to be overseen by the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation, a unit within Fenianos’ ministry.
Finally, the public works minister answered a question from a reporter about whether necessary measures are being applied regarding aviation safety. In his response, Fenianos addressed a recent decision by the European Aviation Safety Agency to suspend the license of the airline Wings of Lebanon because of its failure to comply “with applicable requirements” set by the agency.
“I traveled twice with the company, and I would never approve a license unless the [Directorate-General of] Civil Aviation Flight Safety Department approves it, and the DGCA FSD does not approve without specialists’ approval,” he said.
The minister said he did not follow EASA’s decision because he consulted with the DGCA FSD, “and I trust their decision.”