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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 04:31 GMT 05:31 UK
Libyan aviation ready for take-off
By Rana Jawad
BBC News, Tripoli

Private Libyan airline Buraq Air is due to take possession of two new Boeing aircraft from the United States later this year - something that would have been unthinkable when the country was under sanctions led by the US.
Libya's Maitega airport
Libya's airports badly need new investment

Libya's inclusion on the US "state sponsor of terrorism" list meant it could not import sophisticated technology for the aviation sector, because this fell under the category of "equipment of dual military and civilian use".

This prevented Libya from gaining access to new aviation technology at competitive prices.

But the US says it will take Libya off that list.

Buraq Air general director Captain Mohamed Bubeida is excited about the changes.

He says they're working on opening other routes including: "Sudan, Egypt and Tunisia. With the demands now and the increase of traffic between Tunis, Cairo and Damascus for example, Buraq will at least cover the gap."

Buraq Air launched its first domestic flight in 2001 - the following year, it went international with flights to Morocco, Turkey and Syria.

Buraq was the first Libyan airline to clinch a deal for the purchase of Boeing planes last year, at a cost of $61m each.

But as the number of flights between Tripoli, Africa, and Europe grows, so do flight delays and competition on flight routes.

Substandard

According to the country's civil aviation authority, Libya has been enjoying a gradual increase of traffic for the past five years, since international sanctions were gradually lifted.

Last year, there were 1.5m air travellers - 14% more than the previous year.

When you don't have traffic or a clear future, it has an impact on your planning
Mohamed Shleibek
Libya's Civil Aviation Authority
Many in the aviation industry hope that this increase in traffic will be matched by improvements in the country's airports.

"The terminals are not up to standard - the airports we have now, Tripoli International or Maitega, they have to be renewed completely," Captain Bubeida says.

"We would like to see a new airport with new facilities and new services. It's a huge investment that needs to be done either by the government or other investors."

Changes ahead

Tripoli's international airport is a far cry from some of the more developed ones seen in the region, something else which Civil Aviation Authority Director General Mohamed Shleibek blames partly on sanctions: "When you don't have traffic or a clear future, it has an impact on your planning."

Captain Sabri Abdallah
Captain Sabri Abdallah says Afriqiyah Airlines could become a regional hub
Mr Shleibek was quick to add that the CAA's estimated $700m proposal to upgrade Libya's airports has been approved by the Libyan government, and they will start renovating as soon as they can.

Mr Shleibek also says sanctions are responsible for the current state of the facilities such as air navigation and communication equipment.

This equipment, he says, was "originally imported from Canadian manufacturers linked with US companies", so Libya's inclusion on the US sanctions list made it impossible to renew the equipment.

But change is approaching fast in the coming weeks, with the US Congress expected to approve the US government's proposal to restore full diplomatic ties with Libya.

In 2001, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi enthusiastic about African unity, a new state-owned airline called Afriqiyah was established.

Oil boom

As Tripoli and Washington move closer to restoring full diplomatic relations, Afriqiyah Airlines chairman Captain Sabri Abdallah has high expectations.

He thinks the impact will be huge - "mainly in purchasing American equipment, and also we'll benefit from training the airlines personnel in the United States".

Captain Abdallah says there are no imminent plans for direct flights to the United States, but he adds that it's a "definite future possibility".

He points to the gradual progression of economic ties: "We will see American companies, especially in the oil sector, more involved in the Libyan market, and a lot of Libyan institutes will head for the US for training or other business missions."

"And don't forget we use Tripoli as a hub for the rest of Africa so we could use the Afriqiyah flights to the US to extend our network of operations," he says.




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