BEIRUT: As the EU and Transportation Minister Ghazi Zeaiter spar in a growing row over Lebanon's Civil Aviation Authority, Middle East Airlines Chairman Mohammad Hout sought to assure travelers that there was no issue with the safety of his airline's flights.
“There is no fear over the safety or the security of MEA planes,” Hout said during a ceremony in his honor at the Chamber of Commerce in Beirut.
The row, which began when EU Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst warned Tuesday that Lebanese airlines could be barred from the European Union, continued Thursday with the EU rebuking Zeaiter Thursday for questioning Eichhorst's motives.
In his press conference, Hout said that Eichhorst had explained during a meeting that “she was trying to apply the requirements acceptable by the European Union." Hout said the lack of an independent Civil Aviation Authority did not mean that safety standards did not exist.
“On the contrary, there are new laws that must be applied,” he said, pointing to the need for the Cabinet to speed up finalizing this issue.
On Wednesday, Zeaiter said he was surprised by comments from Eichhorst suggesting that Lebanese airlines could be barred from EU airspace if the government did not appoint an independent committee to oversee aviation security.
Zeaiter rejected the EU pressure on the government, questioning its motives, while saying Lebanon was willing to address any specific safety concerns.
"There is a certain mechanism we need to follow. ... We can't be pressed to form the committee for the airport right now," he said. "If the EU wants to send a delegation to inspect the airport, then they are more than welcome."
Thursday morning, the EU Delegation to Lebanon released a statement responding to Zeaiter.
"The Delegation of the European Union firmly rejects the remarks made by the Minister of Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zeaiter questioning the motives behind the EU call for improving aviation safety oversight in Lebanon,” the statement from the EU delegation in Lebanon said.
The EU statement said that following the Lebanon-EU Civil Aviation Forum last week and a May 20 meeting between Eichhorst and Zeaiter, the delegation reiterated the need for Lebanon to enact the law “to ensure that it fully complies with international aviation safety regulations.”
The statement says that the International Civil Aviation Organization has constructively engaged with the Lebanese authorities, seeking guarantees about the oversight mechanisms for aviation safety in Lebanon. The EU has repeatedly called on Lebanon to implement Law 481 passed in 2002, which calls for establishing an independent Civil Aviation Authority.
“On 10 April 2014, the European Commission has again reminded the Lebanese General Directorate of Civil Aviation of the urgent need to implement the law, as well as to give concrete answers to the International Civil Aviation Organization in order to resolve the current aviation safety challenges,” the EU statement said, pointing to the EU technical assistance to help Lebanon address these concerns. “The Lebanese authorities assured the EU that complying with international regulations on civil aviation safety is a top priority for the country."