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Exclusivity renewal prompts MEA to proceed with fleet expansion

Hout, left, and Aridi inspect work in the flight simulation training center. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s flag carrier, reaffirmed plans to expand its fleet, as it hailed Thursday a Cabinet decision to extend their exclusivity deal for another 12 years.

During a recognition ceremony held by MEA for Transportation and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi, MEA chairman Mohammad al-Hout said the company would go ahead with plans to acquire 10 new Air Bus aircraft, expecting delivery by 2020.

In July MEA signed a memorandum of understanding for the 10 single-aisle passenger planes, the European aircraft manufacturer said. Figures for the deal have not been released, but analysts put the total value of the airplanes at around $1 billion.

Thanking Aridi for supporting MEA’s bid to renew exclusivity, Hout said 2012 had poised serious challenges to the flag carrier. “Lebanon faced kidnappings, deteriorating rule of law and plummeting tourism,” he said.

“[These challenges came] as we received a new Air Bus carrier jet and launched a $43 million pilot training center and launched an $11 million cargo center,” he said.

Extended by the Cabinet for 12 years earlier this month, MEA’s exclusivity effectively forbids any other airline from registering as a Lebanon-based commercial carrier.

Hout said the company has managed to evade obstacles, highlighting its July partnership with the SkyTeam international airline alliance as a milestone.“It was not easy but during the past two years we removed many obstacles [including] investors brought by certain sides that hoped to cancel exclusivity. But they did not make it,” Hout said. Aridi, who also spoke on the occasion, said he would continue to support MEA, reiterating that the national carrier remains “the mother of public companies.”

“There are people who do not want MEA to remain successful, and I had confronted before these attempts from various positions,” he said.

Aridi said the Cabinet would not have extended exclusivity if they were not convinced of its importance to the company. “We did not extend exclusivity to a normal company, but we extended it for a company of endless successes,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 14, 2012, on page 5.

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