Airbus closes on Libya deal

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Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Airbus Industrie is set to clinch a major aircraft order from Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) as the carrier prepares to relaunch its international network after the lifting of United Nations sanctions on Libya.

The Libyan flag carrier has signed a letter of intent (LOI) with European consortium Airbus covering orders and options for up to 24 aircraft to be delivered over the next five years, say sources close to the talks. The airline plans to acquire a mix of long- and short-haul types to serve destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Far East and Africa.

Airbus confirms LAA "has expressed its intention to acquire up to 24 aircraft from Airbus Industrie", but will not comment on whether an LOI has been signed.

A delegation led by Airbus managing director Noel Forgeard arrived in Tripoli on 5 October to discuss the order. "We are here to establish co-operation projects between Airbus and LAA," Forgeard is quoted as saying by the Libyan news agency Jana Tripoli.

"We also want to keep abreast of and participate in the development of Libyan airlines in the international arena, particularly in Africa and Europe," he says.

Boeing and several Russian manufacturers are believed to have held talks with LAA. Washington, however, maintains a trade embargo with Libya and this will have implications on issues such as engine selection for the Airbuses.

Several foreign carriers have resumed flights to Libya and LAA reopened its first international route, to Amman in Jordan, in April. An international trade and aviation embargo was imposed by the United Nations in 1992 after two Libyan nationals were implicated in the bombing of a Pan Am Boeing 747 over Lockerbie in Scotland.

The flight ban was lifted in April after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi handed over the suspects to stand trial in the Netherlands.

LAA needs to renew its fleet, which comprises mainly ageing Boeing 707s, 727s and Fokker F27s, only some of which are believed to be airworthy.

British Aerospace officials have been frequent visitors to Libya since it became clear that the trade sanctions were likely to be eased. They aim to secure a wide-ranging contract to rebuild the country's civil aviation infrastructure.