Palestinian adds Dash 8s as it prepares to expand

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GERALD BUTT / NICOSIA

Long-term plans on hold until Dahania airport base reopens following Israeli damage

With the Middle East peace process apparently making headway, Palestinian Airlines is gearing up for expansion with the introduction of two new Bombardier Dash 8s. However, the possibility of an early move back to its base at Dahania international airport in the Gaza Strip is unlikely, as it will need at least six months of work to be made serviceable, once Israel gives permission for repairs to start.

Palestinian Airlines was forced to move out of Dahania in December 2001 when the Israeli army ploughed up its 1,400m (4,590ft) runway. Since then, the airline has been operating limited services from El-Arish, which is just across the border in Egypt, and Amman in Jordan. The Palestinian Authority filed its request to Israel to start restoration work last month, and is awaiting a response.

The airline, which at its peak had a Boeing 727-200 and two Fokker 50s, is flying one of its Fokkers, with the other aircraft undergoing a C check in the Netherlands. The 727 remains grounded, but later this month, Palestinian will accept delivery of two Dash 8 Q300s that it ordered several years ago.

"Once we have the four aircraft, we will start expanding from El-Arish to Istanbul, Jeddah and Larnaca," says Salman Abu Halib, director general of aviation and deputy transport minister in the Palestinian Authority. He adds that it is unlikely that the 727 will be reactivated as it needs hushkitting and other modifications.

Although Palestinian also has two Bombardier CRJ200s on order, Abu Halib says that long-term plans will not be decided until Dahania airport re-opens. This will require $25 million investment, he says, and take six months. "Repairing the runway and replacing the lighting system alone will cost around $6-7 million," he adds.