A320 wet lease boosts Libyan

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Andrew Chuter/TRIPOLI

Libyan Arab Airlines is taking a significant step towards rebuilding its route structure with the scheduled arrival on 10 December of two Airbus A320s at its base in Tripoli.

The wet-leased aircraft being provided by Irish airline TransAer are due to be pressed into service almost immediately. Libyan Arab is seeking to re-open previously lucrative routes to European destinations such as London, Zurich, Athens and Frankfurt. The Libyan airline is already talking about expanding the $60 million contract to include a third aircraft.

TransAer, which recently started a similar A320 deal in neighbouring Algeria, with Khalifa Airways, will eventually assist with engineering, cockpit and cabin crew training.

Most of the major European carriers are pouring high-yield business passengers into Tripoli and Libyan Arab wants a share of the booming post-sanctions market.

The deal is the most important part of a short-term fleet renewal programme, which has also seen the carrier agree leasing deals for a Boeing 707, two Airbus A310s and three Fokker F28s since the suspension of United Nations (UN) civil sanctions against Tripoli in April.

The Saudi 707 agreement was quickly terminated, but an A310, wet-leased from Air Djibouti, has been successfully plying routes for several months, primarily to Middle East destinations such as Oman and Damascus.

The A310 fleet will soon be increased with the addition of a second A310, leased from Royal Jordanian, which will help Libyan Arab extend its penetration of markets such as Egypt.

The final piece of the fleet jigsaw is a contract with a previously unknown UK company, FSA, to dry-lease three ex-Merpati operated Fokker F28s, which will all be in service within a few weeks, operating domestic services. The airline will continue to operate two F28s and three Boeing 727-200Advs from its original fleet, which had numbered around 40 aircraft before UN sanctions against the Tripoli government prohibited Libyan aircraft flying outside of its airspace and banned trade in aviation goods. The 727s will be used for domestic and African services.

A letter of intent was signed with Airbus in October covering 24 A320s, A330s and A340s for delivery to Libyan Arab between 2002 and 2004 (Flight International, 13-19 October).

The agreement, worth around $1.5 billion, includes 20 A320 family aircraft, two A330s and a similar number of A340s for government use, but cannot progress much further without a lifting of a continuing US embargo.

The resurrection of the Libyan Arab operations comes against the backdrop of the continuing US ban against the Ghadaffi government over its alleged involvement in the Lockerbie crash of a Pan Am 747 in 1988. Libyan Arab continues to fight the US ban, as the airline is an innocent bystander to an inter-governmental dispute.

While Washington has had no affect on the influx of non-US leased equipment into Libya, its ban has put a hold on the completion of any deal to deliver new Western-built aircraft. Despite that, manufacturers continue to demonstrate their aircraft to Libya in the belief that the embargo will be eased. Evidence of that was BAE Systems' arrival in late November with an Avro RJ100.