Libyan looks to the CIS as sanctions block Airbus buy

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Alan George/LONDON

Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA) has opened negotiations with Russian and Ukrainian manufacturers for a new jet fleet, as a major order for Airbus aircraft remains stalled by US sanctions.

LAA's ageing fleet is in urgent need of modernisation, and the carrier signed an agreement in-principle with Airbus in 1999 for an estimated $1.5 billion of aircraft. The deal was for up to 20 A320 family aircraft, two A330s and two A340s for the government.

It had been hoped that deliveries would begin in 2002, but as a range of components and elements of the flight control system on the Airbus models are of US-origin they require Washington's approval for re-export which has prevented the deal from being firmed up. Libya remains under comprehensive US trade sanctions because of its involvement in terrorism. Washington is scheduled to review its sanctions policy in August.

Although LAA has managed to introduce a handful of modern aircraft - two A300-600Rs and two A310-200s which are understood to be operated on lease through Royal Jordanian Airlines - it has a diminishing fleet of Boeing 727-200s that need replacing. It needs to expand and update its fleet to help it rebuild its international route network.

With the Airbus negotiations stalled, Libya has begun to look to Russian and Ukrainian manufacturers for new equipment. "We haven't closed the door on the Airbus deal and we are still willing to do business if the sanctions issue is cleared up," says an LAA source.

Although the specific types under consideration are not known, the candidates are likely to include the Ilyushin Il-96 for long-haul services and the TupolevTu-204 and Tu-334 twinjets for its short-haul needs.

LAA's efforts to acquire a regional jet type such as the Avro RJ have also been stalled by the US sanctions (Flight International, 29 May-4 June).