Welcome to one of the most beautiful, vibrant — and dangerous — countries on the planet.
To Go or Not to Go
We pushed a little further: Is there a “manpad” (man-portable air defense system, or shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile) or other ground fire risk? “There are manpad units in Lebanon,” Phares claimed. “Hezbollah owns many of these weapons and has used them against the Israelis. Al Qaeda's Jihadists also may have a few, obtained from Syrian and Libyan militias. It is well known that Hezbollah is in total control of Beirut Airport and vicinity, as well as considerable parts of the Lebanese airspace system.
“The vicinity of Beirut Airport includes critical and danger zones from which it would be easy to target civil aircraft following the established approach and departure paths. But ironically, Hezbollah will not allow any other terrorist group to infiltrate the zones lying under its control. Hezbollah won't use these missiles against civilian aviation for fear of massive international retaliation. But there is no guarantee that in the case of a clash with the U.S., the Iranian-funded group would not retaliate against U.S. civilian targets.”
As for ground fire risk, “Hezbollah also is in total control of all points from which ground fire is possible around Beirut International Airport. In conclusion, as long as Hezbollah has no interest for now in any security destabilization at the airport, landing and taking off from the airfield can be considered safe.”
As Hanlon said, it bears watching by your company's internal security department or your security contractor — either one can prepare daily security briefs for you to get a sense of the Lebanese political condition and see trends developing. If it looks the least bit rocky, don't go.
But if it is a go, here's Hanlon's description of arrival and departure procedures at BEY: “Coming up from Saudi Arabia, there's a big mountain range east of the city, and you go north and then start to descend, turning left, then south. Typically, you're landing to the south on Runway 16. Departing, you typically take off on Runway 21 out over the water with a turn to the north and then fly the SID.”
For arrival and departure, “there is an intersection named LEBOR — it's on the Damascus chart — with a crossing restriction at or about FL 240. From there, you proceed west and south around the mountains. From the south, you have to route in east of Beirut, then fly north to LEBOR and pick up the STAR. There's another SID that takes you up to the northeast for routing to Europe to a fix called BALMA at the Beirut FIR — all this is out over the water. From Cyprus, you come straight in, making a right turn south into the airport.”
At Jeppesen's flight planning division in San Jose, Calif., Nancy Pierce, client solutions and professional services, said Jepp has worked a consistent one to two Lebanon flights per month over the past couple of years. Her colleague, Wynand Meyer, vendor relations manager based in faraway Dubai, said the planning process begins with obtaining landing permits at Beirut. “You will have to present copies of your airworthiness certificate, aircraft registration and insurance to Lebanon's Civil Aviation Authority in order to obtain a landing permit. They typically want 48 hr. notice, although it can be gotten quicker.”
The permit is valid 48 hr. before and 72 hr. after the date of issuance and revisions are available. “When filing your [ICAO] flight plan, you will have to add the CAA approval number of the permit in Section 18,” Meyer continued. Permits are also required for overflights. And as with most of the Middle East, flying into Lebanon from Israel is not permitted.
Flight crews from most regions like the U.S., Canada and Europe do not require visas, only General Declarations (GenDecs). (Those crewmembers arriving via airline, however, do require visas and can obtain them on arrival.) Flight crews from other states or regions can arrive and depart with GenDecs, but if they arrive on the airlines, they will need to obtain visas in advance. Passports must have a minimum six-month validity from visa issuance date.
Americans, Canadians and Europeans arriving aboard private aircraft will need visas but can obtain them on arrival. All other passengers [i.e., arriving by airline] will need to obtain visas in advance. Entry can be denied if there is any evidence of an Israeli stamp in the passport.
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport is Lebanon's only POE gateway. The airport was badly damaged during the 15-year-long Lebanese civil war beginning in 1975 (during which all foreign airlines ceased serving it and only two local carriers provided intermittent service) and again in 2006 by Israeli military aircraft. Flight crews who have recently been through OLBA report no evidence of the attacks and signified the airport has been completely restored.
The field's elevation is 85 ft., and its runways are 3/21, 12,467 ft. by 148 ft., PCN: 60RBWT; 16/34, 11,138 ft. by 148 ft., PCN: 60RBT; and 17/35, 10,663 ft. by 148 ft., PCN: RBWT. All are a combination of asphalt and concrete. There are no slots at OLBA for business aviation, although they are required for commercial operators. The airport is open 24 hr., and there are no curfew or noise restrictions. Nav fees are assessed in Lebanese airspace. ATC is rated as excellent, with procedures according to ICAO PansOps delivered by English-speaking controllers.