Lebanon's PM unveils airport expansion initiative

Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced an urgent plan to expand Rafik Hariri International Airport to accommodate more passengers as Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh proposed partial privatization of MEA.

  
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri presides a cabinet meeting at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon September 29, 2017.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri presides a cabinet meeting at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon September 29, 2017.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri Wednesday announced an urgent plan to expand Rafik Hariri International Airport to accommodate more passengers as Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh proposed partial privatization of MEA. “We have today a project to increase the airport’s capacity by an additional 5 million passengers and this will be in line with the guideline of the Public Works Ministry. The financing of this project will mainly be through a donation from the Middle East Airlines,” Hariri said at the inauguration of MEA Training and Conferences Center” at the airport.

But the prime minister did not disclose the cost of the airport expansion or the timeframe for the execution of this project. The airport was originally was rebuilt in 1992 to accommodate 6 million passengers a year.

Many critics at that time questioned the need for expanding the airport and considered the money spent on this project as a unnecessary.

But in recent years, the number of passengers using the airport far exceeded the 6 million ceiling; prompting officials and MEA chairman Mohamad el-Hout to call for the expansion of the facility.

“The martyr Prime Minister [Rafik Hariri] considered our international airport our interface to the world, the first gate for the expatriates whom we want to return to our country, the tourists we want to see in our country and the investors whom we would like to see participating with their money and projects in our economic advancement,” Hariri said.

“When Rafik Hariri rebuilt the airport to accommodate 6 million passengers, people asked: Why 6 million passengers and where will they come from? But last year this airport received more than 7.5 million passengers,” Hariri said.

The prime minister expected the number of passengers to grow before the end of this year based on the statistics of the Civil Aviation department. “The number this year will be bigger, because in July and August alone, the airport registered more than 2 million passengers,” he added.

Hariri praised the efforts of Hout, who turned MEA into a profitable entity, which incurred millions of dollars in losses before he took over the company in 1989.

“Today we are proud that in the era of Hout, this company moved from being a money losing company to a successful company, flying in the name of Lebanon all over the world. From a company that was losing tens of millions after the Civil War, threatened with closure, to a company earning tens of millions a year with accumulated profits that reached under its current management more than $1 billion,” Hariri said.

He added that the new hall would be named Riad Salameh’s hall in recognition of the contribution of the governor to the development of MEA.

The Central Bank controls 99 percent of the national carrier.

“The Training and Conferences Center is an investment in developing the knowledge economy in Lebanon and an investment in human resources, which are the first pillar of the Lebanese economy.

“The center provides the young Lebanese opportunities they need such as jobs, education and chances for advancement,” Hariri said.

Salameh, one of the key speakers at the opening of the training center, said he would submit to the government a proposal to list 25 percent of MEA’s shares on the capital market to allow the private sector to own a stake of the company, which is still controlled by BDL.

“We look forward to the positive development of the Capital Market Authority and to the government’s efforts to privatize the Beirut Stock Exchange, which will coincide with the launch of the electronic trading platform in securities and equities. Upon completion of this, we will be offering, with the approval of the government, 25 percent of the shares of the company to be owned and traded by the private sector,” Salameh said. He added that MEA was one of the Banque du Liban’s most lucrative investments.

Salameh said that currently, MEA is valued at $1 billion and the company distributes annual profit of $55 million a year to BDL.

Other speakers also underlined the importance of the airport and said all efforts should be focused to expand the important facility to cope with the growing number of passengers.

Copyright © 2017, The Daily Star. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).


More From Construction