WATERWAY TO GO

Lebanon 2013 | TRANSPORT | REVIEW: TRANSPORT

Transport nodes are shifting in Lebanon as traders and merchants rely more on the maritime sector for imports and exports.

Since the conflict in Syria began, the over land connections to the Middle East have become significantly more dangerous and much more expensive to travel on. In response, Lebanon has begun utilizing other available avenues, such as air and sea, to move goods in and out.

ROAD

There are approximately 7,000 kilometers of paved road running through Lebanon, which also includes around 170 kilometers of expressways. The government has put the reconstruction and expansion of the network high on its list. Some of the most important routes in the country are the Beirut to Damascus and Tripoli to Aleppo routes. The majority of new roads are built with the aim of alleviating the crippling traffic congestion that Beirut is becoming known for. One such scheme is the Fouad Boutos Project, which will be a four-lane flyover as well as a tunnel and will cost an estimated $75 million. It is hoped that the project will be the “missing link" between the Alfred Naccache road and the Charles Helou expressway. However, the project has come under some criticism as it entails the demolition of 30 houses and runs through groves, orchards, and oak trees. Some citizens have also voiced concern that since the project was developed in the 1960s, it is now outdated and doesn't fit with modern city demands. Another major development is the Sayyad Project, or the Beirut Ring Road. The project should insert a backbone into the road network of Beirut and hopefully alleviate some of the congestion.

AIR

Air transport in Lebanon has produced mixed figures recently. The conflict in Syria is affecting international confidence in the region, especially when it comes to transit flights. According to Lebanese Civil Aviation, the number of passengers using Rafic Hariri International Airport rose by 5% over 2012, despite the fall in transit numbers. This brought the number of passengers using the airport to just under 6 million for 2012 compared to 5.65 million in 2011. The number of inbound passengers increased by 2.84% in 2012, reaching a total of 2.9 million, while outbound passengers also rose by 8.53% to surpass the 3 million mark. However, passengers on transit flights dropped by 19% over 2012 to 47,189. The number of transit flights also tumbled considerably by 36%, while the total number of flights fell by 11.58%. The number of inbound flights increased by 2.97% along with an increase of 2.92% for outbound flights. Private jet flights plummeted over 2012 by 27%. Due to the lack of land options, cargo flights increased by nearly 14%, yet airmail fell by 8.35%. Despite the instability in the market, Lebanon's flagship carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), announced it would be buying 10 new aircraft from Airbus to the tune of $1 billion. “In 2012, MEA signed a firm contract for 10 A320/321 neo family aircraft, which offer fuel burn savings and reliability," Mohamad El-Hout, Chairman of MEA, explained to TBY.

PORTS

While the air sector has seen mixed consequences of the Syrian conflict, the ports of Lebanon have certainly become busier. According to the Beirut International Chamber of Navigation, the Port of Beirut in the past only used to receive around 22,000 TEUs a month (not including transshipment), while in 2012 that figure rose to 30,000 TEUs, and throughout 2013 it has been well over an average of 40,000 TEUs a month. Shipping agencies in the area have seen a rise in goods handled of 18% as of May 2013. In the first five months of 2013, goods imported through the port increased by 18.5% to over 3.3 million tons, while the number of ships serviced also increased by 7% to 887. The port has witnessed an increase of 25.84% in revenues from $69 million in the first five months of 2012 to $87 million over the same period of 2013. This boom in revenue and services has been attributed to the conflict in Syria and the shift away from traditional transport nodes, such as the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus. Traders are relying on Lebanese merchants to move the shipments inland to their Syrian destinations. The increase in activity at the port is becoming so intense that the port authorities have asked multinational transshipment companies using the Port of Beirut to decrease their usage so as to make space for the increasing number of container vessels arriving the port. Traders and merchants are beginning to complain about congestion at the port, and often ships are waiting offshore for a number of days before being serviced. However, a port expansion in Beirut, which is due for completion at the end of 2013, will increase the capacity of the port by 600,000 TEUs to give it a total capacity of 2.1 million TEUs per year. The expansion will also create a 2,300-meter long quay by bridging quays 12 and 16 and filling in the fourth basin of the port. The port authorities believe that this expansion will significantly reduce the congestion being experienced at the port and reduce turnaround times for ships.

RAIL

The rail system is often a forgotten mode of transport in Lebanon, largely due to its relatively small network, most in a state of disrepair. In theory, the longest line in the country is the 224-kilometer railway from Abboudieh in the north to Naqoura in the south, which runs along the coast. In the past, this line also extended to the Syrian city of Homs. A new project that was recently initiated was a new rail link between the Port of Tripoli and Chekka in Northern Lebanon. Although feasibility studies are underway, the likelihood of such a major capital investment being made prior to the onset of natural gas revenues seems slight.