BEIRUT: Public Works and Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter expressed surprise Wednesday at the European Union’s warning that it would ban Lebanese carriers from flying over Europe if the government does not appoint the committee which oversees aviation safety.
“I am surprised by the statement made by Angelina Eichhorst, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, to the media in which she said that Lebanese airlines may face a possible ban from operating within European airspace if proper measures to improve aviation safety measures were not taken. We had positive talks with the ambassador Tuesday but I was surprised to read her statement the next day,” Zeaiter told The Daily Star.
In a statement issued to the media, Eichhorst said she met with Zeaiter to press for urgent measures ensuring the regulated oversight of civil aviation in Lebanon.
“Lebanese airlines are currently facing the possibility of a complete ban from operating within EU territorial airspace. This follows a significant delay in addressing safety concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organization in December 2012. The EU Air Safety Committee has identified as the root cause of concern the overdue implementation of Lebanese Civil Aviation Law Nr 481/2002,” the statement read.
It added that the European Union was providing technical assistance and was committed to working closely with the Lebanese authorities, but said it was crucial to enact this law and create an independent and appropriately resourced Lebanese Civil Aviation Authority.
The ambassador stressed the need for the authority to be headed by qualified personnel with significant experience in regulatory oversight.
“The EU Air Safety Committee will hold its next meeting in November 2014 following which a decision will be made on whether to include all Lebanese airlines in the list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within EU territorial airspace,” the statement added.
Zeaiter questioned why the EU ambassador insisted on implementing law 481 now, although the bill was issued in 2002.
“There is a certain mechanism we need to follow before appointing members of the regulatory authority for the airport. Our government has made many appointments but we can’t be pressed to form the committee for the airport right now,” the minister said.
Zeaiter stressed that Rafik Hariri International Airport applies all the required safety measures.
“We are running one of the best airports in the region and the safety measures are more than adequate. If the EU wants to send a delegation to inspect the airport then they are more than welcome,” he added.
Zeaiter said his ministry and the civil aviation department were ready to cooperate with European and U.S. authorities to upgrade the safety measures at the airport.
But he insisted he would not meet with the EU envoy to hear her explanation of her statement to the press.
“I have nothing to say to the ambassador now. But we are willing to cooperate with the EU if they have certain remarks about safety measures, whether about the planes or the airport,” he added.
Middle East Airlines chairman Mohammad Hout told The Daily Star he would address the subject Thursday during a news conference at the Chamber of Commerce.