Libyan government seeks to end air travel isolation

Sunday 16/10/2016
Passengers waiting at check-in at Tripoli\'s Mitiga Airport

TUNIS - The internationally backed Libyan Government of National Accord is seek­ing to break the coun­try’s air travel isolation through cooperation with Tunisia.

Afriqiyah Airways, one of Libya’s two state-owned airlines, has en­tered into a partnership with the Aviation Training Centre in Tuni­sia by acquiring 20% of the centre’s capital.

Libyan Minister of Transporta­tion Miled Maatoug said the step would provide Libya with signifi­cant savings in money and time. Libya formerly trained its pilots in Europe.

Maatoug encouraged other Lib­yan companies, including Libyan Airlines, the other state-owned car­rier, to join the partnership with the centre to make it a major training facility in North Africa and a train­ing destination for African pilots and flight personnel.

Afriqiyah Airways President Mohamed al-Fortiya said the part­nership would be an asset for the company as it would contribute to improving the performance of Lib­yan pilots.

Libyan air travel connections to the rest of the world have been hampered by instability and vio­lence since the 2011 overthrow of despot Muammar Qaddafi. Airlines closed their offices in Tripoli fol­lowing what became known as the “airport battle” of 2014.

Tripoli International Airport was heavily damaged as Islamist militias of the Dawn of Libya Coalition and rival Zlitan forces fought for control of the installation. Battles broke out around Benghazi’s Benina Interna­tional Airport, the second largest in Libya, before forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar gained control of the facility.

Libyan planes resumed flights to Tunis last May, one month af­ter the Presidency Council, which performs the functions of a head of state for the Government of Na­tional Accord, was established in Tripoli.

Tunisian authorities had closed the airport to flights from Libya fol­lowing terrorist incidents in Tuni­sia in 2015. Hundreds of Tunisian jihadists are said to be based in Libya. The Tunisian Transportation Ministry said then that the only Tu­nisian airport open to flights from Libya would be Sfax International Airport, 270km south of Tunis.

Maatoug said that, starting in No­vember, Tunisian airline Tunisair would resume flights to and from Tripoli.

Tunisian Transportation Minister Anis Ghedira said Tunisian authori­ties would send a technical com­mission to investigate safety con­ditions in Libyan airports with the resumption of Tunisair flights to Tripoli dependent on the commis­sion’s report.

Maatoug also said the Govern­ment of National Accord had agreed with the British Civil Avia­tion Authority to work with the Security Committee of the Libyan parliament on how to meet EU re­quirements for lifting the European flight ban on Libya. The Libyan gov­ernment is looking at resuming air traffic between Libya and Europe next June.

Maatoug said the Libyan govern­ment was building a new terminal in Tripoli, repairing the existing air­port and improving Mitiga Interna­tional Airport, 8km east of Tripoli city centre.