The national flag-carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) is facing the possibility of a complete ban from operating within the EU airspace. This follows a significant delay in addressing safety concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in December 2012, according to an EU statement.
Urgent measures must be made to insure the regulated oversight of civil aviation locally, the European Union said. Ambassador Angelina Eichhorst, Head of the EU Delegation to Lebanon, had met with Minister of Public Works and Transport Ghazi Zeaiter on May 21st, to press for these measures.
“The most important reform we established at MEA is safety and high-quality maintenance,” said Mohammad Hout, Chairman of MEA. Hout said that the company undertook and successfully passed a number of European flight exams. “The exams were unbinding, and yet we succeeded to achieve scores higher than most of the European airlines,” he said.
The EU Air Safety Committee has identified as the root cause of concern, the overdue implementation of Lebanese Civil Aviation Law no. 481/2002. The law mainly calls for the formation of a public authority for civil aviation that controls flight safety as part of its tasks. Hout said: “We call for the formation of this authority out of competent members, insulated from political allegiances.”
Minister of Public Works and Transportation Ghazi Zeaiter responded to the EU warning, saying: “The EU has the right to monitor the country’s application of international flight safety standards but it does not have the right to interfere in our laws.” He expressed surprise that the EU suddenly came up with the warning although the law was issued in 2002.
Director General of Civil Aviation Daniel Haibi said: “The issue is only about the implementation of the law and not safety standards the MEA is following because it adopts the highest rank of international norms.”
"The European Union is providing technical assistance and is committed to working closely with local authorities, but it is crucial to enact this law and create an independent and appropriately resourced Lebanese Civil Aviation Authority", said Eichhorst.
The EU Air Safety Committee will hold its next meeting in November following which a decision will be made on whether to include all Lebanese airlines in the list of air carriers subject to an operating ban within EU territorial airspace.
Hout pointed to the decrease in the number of passengers in 2014 compared to the year before. He said: “We recorded a drop in January of three percent, in February of seven percent, and in March of 14 percent.” He urged politicians to interpret these figures as an indicator of the current economic situation.