A scenic and cultural jewel on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon shares borders with Syria and Israel, has a sometimes contentious multiethnic population, and is an unintended haven for a major terrorist organization. Because of the foregoing, Lebanon has for 50 years served as a recurrent battlefield, often for other nationalities' proxy wars.
As this is written — following six years of relative peace since the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict last laid waste the country — someone else's violence once again threatens this small nation. In late March, the Syrian civil war spilled across Lebanon's northern border as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's air force began bombing raids on alleged rebel encampments and training grounds in Lebanese territory.
No one knows how this will ultimately play out, whether the Syrian government's incursion into Lebanon will galvanize Western nations — specifically the U.S. — or the U.N. to intervene in the conflict on the side of the Syrian rebels or whether Lebanon will once again be a victim of the ravages of another country's war. The choices are complex with a panoply of risky ramifications in a region that has come to be characterized as a powder keg. And there's no telling what effect yet another conflict on their soil will mean to the Lebanese people, their safety, infrastructure, business activity and economy.
An irony that distinguishes Lebanon is that despite the violence that has taken place within its borders over decades, the republic — whose area is about the size of Connecticut — not only endures but remains viable as a financial force in the Middle East. Furthermore, its largest city and capital, Beirut, often characterized as “the Paris of the Middle East,” has been able — like a fiercely determined phoenix — to pull itself out of the ashes of war, reconstruct itself and be open for business and tourism. Lebanon's primary industry is finance, and Beirut has remained through peace and war a destination for business.
And at least until this spring, business aviation operators have been routinely flying to Lebanon. Last September, Steve Ragland crewed a Gulfstream IV operated by PepsiCo on a trip to the country. “We landed at Beirut . . . and there were five U.S.-registered aircraft sitting on the ramp there,” he related to BCA.
But the war in Syria has taken its toll on regional operations. Before the recent fighting, according to Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA) founding chairman Ali Al Naqbi, Beirut ranked fourth as the region's most popular business aviation destination in terms of movements. "A lot of Arabs go there to do business and take vacations," Al Naqbi observed, "but the war has restricted the number of visits. Now they fly to Turkey and come into Lebanon by sea or other means.”
As a result of the war, MEBAA rescheduled a regional meeting and conference at Beirut originally to convene in April and moved it to September. “After my meeting with the Lebanese prime minister [Najib Miqati],” Al Naqbi said, “we decided to move it to after the summer elections.”
Walid Phares, Ph.D. is a Middle East expert and Lebanese expatriate who runs an international affairs consultancy in Washington, D.C. Asked what effect he saw the Syrian civil war having on Lebanon, he answered, "Destabilizing.”
He explained, “On the one hand, a large flow of refugees is entering the country every day, putting tremendous economic and social stress on Lebanon's already weakened economy. But also the polarization due to the civil war of Syria is creating a parallel battlefield in Lebanon.
"Salafi militias from Lebanon are crossing the border to fight the Assad regime and Hezbollah fighters are sent to Syria to support the Assad regime. Eventually these two forces will clash widely on Lebanese soil,” he predicted.
But nevertheless, Lebanon is still open for business. “Lebanon has tremendous business opportunities both for foreigners, including Arabs and Westerners, and for Lebanese émigrés,” Phares continued. “But again, security aside, the country was and can reemerge to the status of the 'cultural Paris' or 'financial London' of the region. But the state of security renders the flow of business opportunities unsure.”
He pointed out that a fleet of business jets owned and operated by Arab businessmen continues to flow in and out of Beirut. “Some Lebanese politicians also have their own business jets. But as far as Western businessmen are concerned, there are extremely rare visits in their business jets. At this stage, only necessary travel for Western business leaders to Lebanon should be considered.”
There are about 14 business aircraft based at Beirut in the general aviation area of the airport. Three of them are in Lebanese registry with the remainder registered in other countries. “Most businesses that operate aircraft [in Lebanon] keep them elsewhere,” Al Naqbi said. “AOCs [commercial Air Operating Certificates] are issued to any company using business aviation. However, in Lebanon, an AOC is somewhat different from the norm in that anyone dealing with aviation, private or commercial, has to have one. Charter companies are also active there — EAS [Executive Aircraft Services] is an example, operating four aircraft. The general aviation part of the airport is isolated from the commercial area. It is very secure.”
Syria, meanwhile, has no business aviation operations of its own. “Most of the CAAs [civil aviation authorities] in the Middle East have issued notifications to airlines not to fly over Syria,” Al Naqbi said. “As a result, your flight to Lebanon will be longer because of this restriction.” Indeed it will, depending on your direction of arrival, as now Syria, like Israel, cannot be over-flown. (Israel, of course, for political reasons: Almost all Middle East countries refuse any aircraft that has taken off from or over-flown Israel to enter their airspace.)
An Ottoman Empire-era Syrian province, Lebanon was sectioned out of Syria in 1920 by the French, who had acquired a mandate over the territory after World War I. In 1943, it was granted independence and emerged on the world stage as the Lebanese Republic. As in so many cases where a western empire has drawn political lines on a map (e.g. Iraq), these artificial constructs often embrace ethnicities or tribes that are widely disparate in their beliefs, be they religious, political or racial.
While Lebanon's population of just over four million is of mostly Arabic descent, these peoples' religious faiths break down roughly as 60% Muslim and 40% Christian, which is highly unusual in the Arabic Middle East. However, within those two poles, their loyalties further parse out to five Muslim sects and at least 11 Christian ones. And as everywhere on the planet, each denomination holds its beliefs adamantly and is frequently in tension with other groups and their belief systems.
So, it wasn't surprising when a largely religious war ignited in Lebanon in 1975 between a coalition of Christian groups and an alliance made up of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), the Druze and various Muslim sects. The war raged for 15 years.
The recent Syrian incursion in Lebanon is not the first time, as Syria wasted no time in 1976 sending its troops into Lebanon — ostensibly to maintain order — only a year after the war started. They remained there until 2005, when a provision of the Ta'if Accord, which had ended the civil war in 1990, called for them to withdraw, and Syria observed the decree and retreated behind its borders. The war was hugely destructive to Lebanon, leveling portions of Beirut and killing an estimated 150,000 people. Business and trade essentially stopped during the 15-year period, as did civil air transportation.
Beirut rebounded from the war quickly, fostering a reconstruction building boom, and business slowly revived. But peace and stability were short-lived. Hezbollah, the Iranian-organized and funded terrorist organization whose raison d'etre was to torment Israel and, by extension, the U.S., kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in 2006, precipitating a 34-day skirmish in which Israel conducted a widespread bombing campaign that included cratering all three runways at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport and destroying its fuel farm. More than 1,200 civilians died in this short conflict, which was ended by U.N. resolution the same year.
Once again, reconstruction began. “There has been a dense but targeted reconstruction wave of Lebanon's downtown by the Hariri Group, particularly in the mid- to late 1990s,” Phares said. “That part of the capital has been almost totally renovated. But other parts of Beirut and the suburbs have undergone 'over construction' waves. After the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, most destroyed bridges and buildings have been rebuilt.” Beirut International Airport also was repaired and returned to service as quickly as possible to accept tourists and businesspersons.
Other periods of violence have intermittently flared in Lebanon through the decades and to the present day. Hezbollah, which also postures as a political party, runs much of Lebanon outside of Beirut, even providing a variety of social aid and services to rural communities, while a parliamentary government in the capital theoretically maintains control of the country.
The Real Power in Lebanon
Phares identified the players in the terrorism/political power arena. “One is pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and the other is the al Qaeda-linked Jihadi militia. Both groups are armed and anti-Western, particularly anti-U.S. Back in the 1980s, Hezbollah attacked U.S. interests and citizens and took hostages. But since 1990, as it ascended to power in Lebanon, Hezbollah chose not to engage American targets.”
However, in view of the escalating situation in the region, “one has to monitor security developments in Syria and Lebanon to evaluate the Hezbollah risk to Western and U.S. business aviation,” he continued. “For the moment, it would be a calculated risk to fly over all of Lebanon, but using Beirut International Airport for business aviation is within the norms of acceptable risks. However, I would recommend a constant monitoring of the internal situation in the country. As far as al Qaeda-linked groups, they are not omnipresent in and around Beirut airport but in remote areas of the country.”
Banking and tourism are the two biggest industries in Lebanon, along with agriculture, viticulture, cement, mineral and chemical products, textiles, wood and furniture, oil refining and metal fabricating. In 2012, Lebanon's GDP was $63.69 billion, and its growth was hovering at 2%, down from 7% in 2010 as a result of a government collapse in 2011 and the tension from the Syrian war.
The country has five airdromes with paved runways, but four of these are military fields; consequently, everyone goes to Beirut International Airport and travels elsewhere within this small country by car, taking proper caution and protection on the roads. “Some areas are safer than others,” Phares advised. “Depending on the visitors, their nationalities and other factors, Lebanon has different zones with different levels of risks.”
In contrast to the rebellious background of the interior, Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (OLBA) is a paragon of order and efficiency, rated as one of the best-run major airports in the world. Furthermore, unlike most major international airports, OLBA courts business and general aviation, with designated parking (and plenty of it) and a cluster of FBOs and on-site CIQ in a general aviation terminal.
Pilots we talked to universally praised the professionalism of Lebanese ATC, the quality of the airport and the high level of service they received, among the best anywhere in Europe or the U.S.
“So what's to be worried about?” asked Craig Hanlon, chief pilot, G550, for DuPont in Wilmington, Del., who's been into Beirut. “And here's where you should consult your corporate security. Hezbollah, which is both a political party and terrorist organization, has two seats on the ruling body of Lebanon. So Lebanon strikes me as a place you have to pay attention to, and if there's no trouble going on, it's a great place to go.”
Just how much of a threat to visiting Western businesspersons is Hezbollah or any of the other terrorist organizations that roam the interior of Lebanon? Phares responded that this was “a very difficult and complex question to answer. On the one hand, Hezbollah doesn't want to appear as a 'terrorist' organization going after Westerners. Although the group has been declared a terrorist organization by the U.S., U.K., Canada, the Netherlands and Australia — and may be by the EU in the near future — it struggles to appear tolerant of 'business activities' and wishes to appear as 'protector' of them.
“The reality,” Phares continued, “is that Hezbollah can at any time target these business activities if Iran decides that it should do so. Thus, Western businesspersons in Lebanon are at the mercy of Hezbollah's will. As far as the Jihadi groups, most are busy fighting the Assad regime in Syria. However, as in Benghazi, some could turn against U.S. or Western targets any time they decide to.”
The war and security situations aside, both in neighboring countries and inside Lebanon, Phares believes, “it would be considered safe for all civil aviation to operate within the Lebanese airspace system. But again, the country's good record on aviation management has to be contrasted with the shaky security situation that continues to develop. The main problem for all commercial and business air traffic is not safety issues, which can be found in many other countries in Africa, Latin America, or even Russia. The potential direct threat to general aviation in Lebanon is the multiple armed factions able to disrupt business aviation operations and menace planes, pilots and passengers.”
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.
BEY is a modern, well-maintained airport with a dedicated general aviation terminal with three tenant FBO/handlers in residence: Cedar Jet Center, Med Airways and Executive Aircraft Services. On landing a follow-me truck will meet and escort the aircraft to an assigned parking slot arranged in advance by the operator's handler. “Our handler will have two reps waiting,” Meyer said. “One is a ramp agent for the crew, and the other is a customer service agent who escorts the passengers to a lounge area where their passports will be taken to CIQ for clearance. A small immigration fee is assessed for customs clearance.”
The luggage is also taken to the building for screening and x-raying both on arrival and departure. “After that, passengers will be escorted to the receiving party, or the people the passengers will be meeting,” Meyer continued. “These people and their vehicles will have to be registered with the handler, as this is a secured area. The handler in advance will have provided the details for the meeting party to airport security. Private security is not allowed into the airport from the outside. If the aircraft needs to be guarded, the handler will arrange that through the airport.”
Meanwhile, the crew will be escorted to the lounge and then to CIQ, and finally to their transportation to the hotel, also arranged ahead of time by the handler. The aircraft will be triple-chalked (i.e., at each landing gear) and cones will be placed around it.
There are early morning peak times at 0500-0600Z and later at 1200-1400Z, especially on Fridays. “We recommend that operators fuel on arrival, if possible,” Meyer said. “Otherwise advise the handler to book a time slot for fueling before departure. In terms of pricing, there are no excessive fuel taxes [on March 14, 2013, it was running $4/gal. retail].” Hangarage is available but it needs to be booked in advance. “Cedar Jet and Executive Aircraft have their own hangars, and Cedar's can accommodate up to a B767,” he said. Light maintenance is available for BBJ,, and Hawker types.
Catering is described as “very flexible” with a minimum 3-hr. advance notice to the providers. “It features locally produced products,” Meyer said. “There is a caterer at the airport and one that is off-site.” Local hotels also can provide it.
The airport is close to downtown, about a 15-min. drive. There are many good, high-quality brand-name hotels, the Radisson being the most popular with flight crews. “The weekend in Lebanon is Saturday and Sunday,” Meyer explained, “and 70% of the population is French-speaking. Lebanon is a very popular destination in the Middle East for skiing in its mountains.”
When it's time to depart, the crew will be met at the FBO by the ramp agent. “There is a permission form that the crew gives to the handler to allow the airport the move the aircraft as close as possible to the lounge for departure, if so desired,” Meyer said. “The service depends on availability and how busy the airport is at the time.” The aircraft can also depart from the north parking area, in which case the crew and passengers will be driven to the aircraft. If the crew refuses to have the aircraft moved, departure will be from the arrival stand.
The baggage will be counted and tagged by the handler, and when the departure x-ray security process is completed, the baggage will be taken to the aircraft. To assure baggage accountability, the handler will get a signature from whomever managed it during the security process and transportation to the aircraft.
Jeppesen recommends that flight plans be filed 3 hr. before departure, although the minimum is 1 hr. in advance. Permits are route-specific and must be indicated in the flight plan. Routing must match the permit both in and out.
Beirut Airport has some of the best security in the Middle East. It is ironic that in some countries where there has been unrest or threats from outside (e.g., Israel), the airport can be the safest place to be due to heightened security considerations. OLBA offers some of the best ground handling anywhere, as it appears that the field is very well organized and welcoming to business and private aviation.
Attuned to Business Aviation
Andrew Wilkinson, standards captain at PepsiCo and left seat on the trip into Beirut crewed by Steve Ragland mentioned earlier, praised OLBA as “great, really professional. They are organized for you when you arrive with assigned general aviation parking on the north side by Terminal B. There are startup and pushback procedures at the FBO — you are directed to request permission to start from the tower, but the published procedures for pushback on the general aviation apron are not practiced. The reality is that you just start up and go and there is no need to pushback.”
Wilkinson offered a “heads up” on a charting omission for an arrival procedure. “On one of the STARS, there's a note that says to call Beirut Control before crossing the FIR — we arrived from Cairo, and it says to contact ATC before entering the FIR. It is a published standard arrival, but this advisory is not on the en route part of the Jepp FD app. SILKO is the fix, and we were on the SILKO ONE arrival from the west.”
Ragland — his copilot on the September 2012 visit — added that “The city is situated like a California coastal city — there's a thin strip of beach, then hills that rise very quickly. The high ground is to the north and east of the airport; however, most maneuvering is over the water.”
When planning trips to international destinations, especially unstable ones like Lebanon, operators will often begin by checking the U.S.website for a security briefing — which more often than not will state that travel is not recommended. “But in my experience,” Ragland said, “you need to weigh that against reality. So, call to your folks on the ground there to find out what is really going on, and make your decision that way.”
The drop-in last September was “a benign trip for us,” Ragland continued, “because of the presence of the pope [Benedict XVI], who was visiting; security was everywhere and everyone was on their best behavior. As soon as we got to the hotel, I hailed a cab and went through the city and saw all my old stomping grounds where I'd spent my formative years.”
The son of Beirut Baptist School administrators, Ragland spent his first 15 years growing up in Beirut, a halcyon life interrupted by the Lebanese civil war. His parents promptly sent him to the U.S. to live with relatives. After graduation from Oklahoma State University, he joined the U.S. Air Force, was accepted for flight training (he'd already earned his private pilot license in college), and wound up flying KC-135s in Desert Storm, the 1990 war against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi incursion into Kuwait. “I was back in the Middle East . . . but not under the best of circumstances,” he said.
His parents remained in Beirut until retiring in 1987. “They were well known in our neighborhood, and there were people who looked out for them,” he told BCA.
We asked Ragland if it is going to be “Battleground Lebanon” again. “The little proxy wars that have devastated modern Lebanon are regionalist within the country. It is important to remember that Lebanon is a fairly small place. The north now is not a good place to go because the Syrian civil war has spilled across the border. Beirut, however, is as good a place as always [almost!] to go.”
The different factions that are fighting in Syria are located close to the northern border of Lebanon, not far from Aleppo in Syria where much of the fighting between the rebels and the government has taken place, Ragland pointed out. “The rebels seek refuge and train in northern Lebanon. That's why it's somewhat a regional issue as to when, why and where you should go.”
As for Beirut, Ragland notes, “In the past, it was called the 'Paris of the Middle East,' and it's regaining that grandeur. It has beautiful beaches and ski resorts, wonderful historic sites with Roman and Greek antiquities, Crusader history, castles and ruins. It is much more Westernized than the rest of the Middle East with a good, vibrant night life. In addition, the Lebanese food is wonderful. My first choice for a place to go would always be Beirut — but of course my heart is there.”
The Lebanese people are known for their warmth, and Ragland described them as “some of the most gracious and hospitable that I've ever known. And do they hate Americans, as we hear so much? Nothing could be further from the truth. On that trip I mentioned earlier, we had five destinations, and we got the best service, handling, and the nicest people to deal with on the entire trip in Beirut.”
There was no evidence of the war damage at all at the airport, Ragland said, “and the city is under repair from the ravages of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. The Beirut museum has been redone and shouldn't be missed. The Junea area is a good place to visit, and a short drive away is Baalbek, built as a temple to Baal and a wonderful archeological find.
“There are the caves at Jietta, where I visited as a kid, about a 45-min. drive from the city in the east. Also, there are the Cedars of Lebanon, Byblos, Sidon and Tyre [all ancient cities dating from the Biblical era].”
Hanlon reminisced about a field trip he and a flight crew took on earlier flight to Lebanon, this into the Bekaa Valley where he almost froze to death in an alpine winter (in the Middle East!) and witnessed “absolutely amazing” Roman ruins.
Thus it goes with Lebanon, this stunning, constantly amazing, dangerous destination.
Use Your Company's Security Resources
When planning a trip to a country where terrorism or war are risks, use every resource you have available to monitor the situation on the ground at your destination and assess overall risk trends before making a decision to go.
Here's how a major flight department interacts with its company's corporate security department, as told by Andrew Wilkinson, standards captain at PepsiCo: “We are a big international company, and we have a security department with contacts in the countries in which we do business. We get our itinerary in advance, and security gets it concurrently. Then they research where we're going and issue the flight crew a 'security passport.'
“Most of our security professionals are former Secret Service with contacts in the countries we travel to and the U.S. embassies there. They prepare a security brief and give it to the crews with contact info for our people on the ground there. We carry satphones on the airplane and take them with us on the ground just in case the cell networks go down. You always want to be self-sufficient.”
Lebanon and Aviation
Walid A. Phares, Ph.D., who addressed the 2013 NBAA International Operators Conference in San Diego this March on terrorism, is a recognized expert in Middle Eastern affairs and a native Lebanese. Here are his thoughts on aviation security in Lebanon and the country's relationship with aviation:
“When we analyze aviation security in a country that had and continues to have military clashes, terror attacks, assassinations, and almost daily clashes, we must take into consideration two levels. One is the state of laws and aviation technology in the country. Two is the military and security situation of the country, which can and is impacting aviation security regardless of the actual notion of aviation safety.
“In other words, Lebanon as a country at peace is successful in terms of managing aviation flight plans, logistics and resources on the ground, and air traffic control. It has an old and well-established aviation history and has had excellent pilots and operators. Lebanese pilots have flown to almost every country in the world and served with international companies with great success.
“Because of its size, about 16 millions worldwide, and distribution internationally within 32 countries, the Lebanese Diaspora has been also a significant contributor to Lebanon's aviation culture and education. Lebanese pilots, engineers, and operators have served worldwide and in the United States and have contributed to the level of expertise in the aviation field in Lebanon.
“Hence, on the strict technical and operational levels, Beirut Airport and the Lebanese airspace system in general have acceptable safety levels as per ICAO established procedures and recommended standards. However, there are certain zones in the Lebanese airspace that are declared restricted or prohibited areas by the Lebanese Army. Such areas are avoided by civil aviation.”
Phares on the Lebanese
We asked Dr. Walid Phares, a Lebanese national, to describe his people.
“Lebanese people in general have been and are hospitable, happy and entrepreneurial. I remember during my own years in Lebanon until 1975 how tourists, artists, and businessmen were welcomed in Lebanon with great joy and excitement. During the 15-years civil war until 1990, however, there were very few Westerners who traveled to Lebanon.
“After the 1990s and because of the Syrian occupation and Hezbollah presence, westerners didn't return in great numbers. Nowadays, the risk is even higher for them to travel and tour Lebanon. The contradiction between the fundamental nature of the Lebanese, as people, to be extremely open and friendly with foreigners, and the threatening terror forces in the country is wide and deep. If Lebanon is freed completely from all armed militias, it will resume as a haven for business and tourism.”
Why is Beirut the only game in town . . . or rather, in Lebanon? “The other airports in the country are either military or otherwise not certified for civil aviation,” answered Ali Al Naqbi, founding chairman of the Middle East Business Aviation Association, in Dubai. “Consequently, you are restricted from flying to other airports.”
MEBBA has been in active dialogue with the Lebanese government to certify other airports, “but this will be a long process,” Al Naqbi said. “An example is Aliaat in the north, where we are negotiating access for civil aircraft and business aviation, but it's been put on hold because of the war. As it is now, you cannot fly within the country except for arriving and departing at Beirut.”
Other candidates identified by Dr. Walid Phares include: “Rayak Airport, a military base used by the Lebanese Army, is close to the Syrian border, and Hezbollah controls its vicinity. Kleyat Airport north of Tripoli is also used by the Lebanese Army and close to the Syrian border. Hezbollah theoretically has no control over it, but Jihadi militias have been signaled in the area.
“And finally,” Dr. Phares said, “Hamat Airport near Chekka is used by the Lebanese army and Hezbollah again has no control around it; U.S. military aircraft have been known to use this field. It would be the safest airport in Lebanon, but special authorizations for landing must be obtained.”