Caroline Cook attends the UKTI Libyan Airports Inward Visit in London.
Few will forget the Libyan civil war, which ended with the death of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi after 42 years of autocratic rule.
Now, the National Transitional Council, currently acting as an interim government in the North African country, has pledged to rebuild a new democratic state in the wake of the conflict.
The no-fly zone, imposed on the country in March 2011 by the United Nations Security Council, was recently lifted and airports across Libya now have the opportunity to upgrade facilities worthy of welcoming travellers to the new democracy.
To help meet the challenge, British Aviation Group (BAG) and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) hosted a Libyan Airports Inward Visit on January 23, 2012, at the BIS Conference Centre in London. Edward Oakden, UKTI Chairman, and Alan Lamond, BAG Chairman, introduced the conference – attended by more than 90 British companies – which was designed to highlight the needs of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha and Misurata airports. Accompanied by Chairman of the recently created Libyan Airports Authority (LAA), Dr Nuri Zarroug, the general managers of the four airports appealed for assistance to reconstruct the facilities.
Dr Zarroug said in his introductory speech: “We want to strengthen Libya as a centre of international and regional aviation. Our mission is to be a world-class organisation and leader in the air management and aviation-related business, contributing to the prosperity of the new Libya.”
There are 11 domestic and four international airports in Libya and, in 2008, fewer than five million passengers used them. Several Libyan airports were already undergoing improvements before the uprising against the Gaddafi regime, but construction work halted as airports stopped operating during the airspace closure and most buildings were damaged during fighting.
According to Dr Zarroug, construction at Tripoli International Airport was 40% complete at the start of the war with Benghazi International 25% finished. Contractors for the work have since been consulted on the projects and final discussions on how to proceed will be held with the government next month.
One of the driving forces behind the development of the airports is tourism. Between 2006 and 2010 there were 10,000 beds in hotels across the country; this number is forecast to increase to 25,000 by 2015. Visas that were notoriously difficult to obtain in the past can now be permitted within one or two days of application.
The needs of Tripoli International Airport, which closed from March until October last year, were outlined by its General Manager, Ezzeddin Mohamed Ennass. As Libya’s largest airport, Tripoli saw 2.1 million passengers in 2007 and 3 million in 2008. Before the uprising, the airport’s National Terminal was closed for construction and now all flights operate from its International Terminal, which has a capacity of three million passengers per annum (mppa). The five-storey structure is open 24 hours a day and covers 360,000sq ft (33,000m2). With no hotel and only one restaurant, plans are to transform Tripoli into a major hub that will cater for all passengers, including those transferring between flights.
Thirteen airlines have resumed service at the airport, with British Airways, Lufthansa and Etihad Airways included among the most recent customers. Six more are due to resume services by the end of March 2012. The airport is enjoying an increasing number of operations, including 98 flights a week from Libyan Airlines, 83 from Afriqayah Airlines and 42 from Buraq Air.
Plans to upgrade and expand Tripoli’s airport, which were originally announced in September 2007, have now being reinstated. Mr Ennass explained that, over the next seven years, two terminals – east and west – will be added on either side of the existing terminal, bringing capacity to 20mppa. The new facilities, covering 1,743,753sq ft (162,000m2) each, will cost US$2.1 billion in total. The construction is a joint venture between Odebrecht, TAV Construction, Consolidated Contractors Company and Vinci Construction. French company Aéroports de Paris designed the buildings, capable of holding 100 aircraft simultaneously.
Misurata Airport is in north Libya, 200km east of Tripoli. The city has a population of 400,000 people with many good transportation links and its airport began operating international flights in 2010. General Manager Kamaleddin R Hammer Alwash, told the conference that most equipment and documents at the facility were destroyed during the conflict. However, two runways and taxiways were cleared last May and the airport received its first flight on June 19, 2011, after repairs to the terminal.
Several carriers use the airport, including Turkish Airlines, which operates daily flights to Istanbul, and Afriqayah Airlines that flies three-weekly. In the last quarter of 2011, the airport served 60,000 travellers and Mr Alwash said that a new terminal with a capacity of 500,000 passengers was planned. He added that staff training was required as well as three fire trucks and a fully equipped ambulance. More urgent needs include navigational aids, an instrument landing system, non-directional beacons and radar. Misurata also requires a new air traffic control tower, CCTV cameras and full lighting systems for both runways.
Sebha International Airport is managed by Mohamed Awhida Ali, who has worked there for three decades. He explained it has many problems: “We need to tackle the current situation and the overall master plan for the airport”. Sebha covers nine acres (3.6ha) of land and is the main airport used for flights between Europe and Africa.
Mr Ali told delegates that its two runways need repairing, adding that the 11,800ft (3,600m) by 148ft (45m) Runway 13/31 had already been resurfaced and the second runway, 06/24, needs surface maintenance. The stopbars on both runways need replacing along with the approach lights on Runway 13. Taxiways B, F, G, and H have been resurfaced with new lights although D and E are closed while they are cleared.
Two out of five stands in use at the airport have to be resurfaced and the fuel supply system needs to be replaced. The airport is also short of fuel, which is usually supplied by local company Sharara. Various navigational aids, such as precision approach path indicators and radar are required. In the long term, the airport requires a new instrument landing system for Runway 31. Plans also include lengthening Runway 06/24 to 8,200ft (2,500m), with PAPIs and approach lights.
Sebha currently has Category 8 ARFF equipment, but lacks communications equipment for the emergency services. Mr Ali added that there was no operations room for the fire services, and the department needed adequate training, clothing and chemical supplies.
A new terminal is due to be open by 2014, with 12ft (3.7m)-high defence perimeters and passport readers to improve security and customs. Training and language courses for all staff are also in the pipeline. A hotel, commercial centre and a larger car park for both employees and passengers are expected. Mr Ali envisions a new administration building, an upgraded control tower and a maintenance centre for airport vehicles, but he felt that the most important addition would be a new cargo building and apron.
Gamal Saleh Said, General Manager of Benghazi International Airport, told the conference he wanted to take his facility “from ignorance to a blissful future.” He spoke of a three-step plan to improve the airport, in the immediate, short- and long- term.
An immediate priority is to get the airport operating safely and efficiently. All airport staff need equipment and training, and Mr Said wants to strictly impose ICAO Annex 17 (the standards and recommended practices for international civil aviation).
The airport has two runways, one of which is currently closed, of 11,800ft (3,600m) by 148ft (45m). A perimeter with a combination of new fencing 11,940ft (3,640m) and 23,560ft (7,180m) that has been replaced and was due to be completed by the end of January 2012.
The airport previously handled 600,000 passengers a year, but based on statistics collected from October 2011 to January 2012 showed the airport handled 3,500 passengers a day and it has been predicted it could currently accommodate up to 1.25mppa. There are nine passenger- and six cargo- airlines currently operating at the airport and others are “interested” in resuming services.
In the long term, Mr Said said Benghazi will have a new terminal, designed by Aéroports de Paris, with a capacity of 5mppa within three to four years. Work on the new terminal was halted during the conflict but, according to company officials, will restart during the next few months after re-evaluation of the project contracts and the conditions of the site. The new terminal will have nine gates and capacity to hold 18 aircraft at a time. In the short term, a transitional terminal with a capacity of 1-1.5mppa is due to be completed by next year.
Caroline Cook attends the UKTI Libyan Airports Inward Visit in London.