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Bombed Beirut airport on road to restoration

Lebanese confident of return to near normal conditions by the end of August

Lebanon's civil aviation administration DGAC is confident Beirut's Rafic Hariri International airport will be restored to near full operational capability by the end of August after damage caused by Israeli air attacks is repaired.

Speaking to Flight International in Beirut earlier this month after a 17 August humanitarian flight operated by UK carrier BMed arrived to mark the restoration of airline services to the Lebanese capital (Flight International, 22-28 August), DGAC director general Hamdi Chaouk said that rebuilding began just hours after a 14 August ceasefire between Israel and southern Lebanon-based Hezbollah took effect.

Chaouk said 25 bombs struck the airport's three runways and taxiways, crippling its infrastructure and forcing airlines to cease operations. Despite heavy damage at its southern end (see picture), runway 16/34 still has 2,000m (6,560ft) of available landing distance. Lebanese flag carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) used this runway to evacuate its fleet, which was caught on the ground during the initial air assault. MEA temporarily shifted its operation to Damascus in Syria.

© David Kaminski-Morrow

Beirut's runway 16/34 is operational despite damage at its southern end

Repair efforts have initially been concentrated on runway 17/35 - an older strip that requires landing aircraft to overfly the city, rather than take the over-water approach to 16/34. Beirut's third runway, 03/21, will be repaired next, followed by 16/34, which Chaouk says will "take nearly two months to fix". While other parts of the airport were also hit (mainly taxiway A and the fuel system), Chaouk says that the terminal buildings have remained intact.

MEA began gradually reintroducing services from Beirut on 18 August, through Amman to Dubai, Cairo, Kuwait, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, Larnaca and several West African cities. However, its main European services - to Frankfurt, London and Paris - have continued to operate from Damascus.

Lufthansa last week abandoned plans to restart flights to Beirut until at least 31 August after failing to secure the necessary approvals, while SkyTeam operator KLM is scrapping the route, opting instead to leave the operation to sister carrier Air France. Oneworld carrier British Airways, franchise partner of BMed, has also been unable to secure rights to restore its regular schedule. BMed had been hoping to begin a four-times weekly operation on 21 August.

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