BOARDING FOR BEIRUT

Lebanon 2017 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Mohamad Chehabeddine, Director General of Civil Aviation of Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport, on the airport's terminal expansion and security enhancements to attract more travelers to the Paris of the East.

Mohamad Chehabeddine
BIOGRAPHY
Mohamad Chehabeddine is a civil engineer and worked as department head of airport safety from1988 to 2000. In 2000, he was promoted to deputy airport manager, then airport manager. About two years ago, he was again promoted and named director general of civil aviation. He has a degree in chemistry from Lebanese University and worked as a chemistry teacher in public schools prior to entering the workforce as a civil engineer in the aviation sector.

Can you elaborate more on your agreement with Middle East Airlines (MEA) to expand the airport?

There is a proposed project for expansion. However, the expansion needs financing, and we are currently pursuing this issue. In 2016, the number of passengers at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport increased to 7.6 million. However, the current halls in our airport are unable to accommodate this figure, which is why we need to expand the airport. Expansion requires financing, and this financing depends on getting the plans that we requested. A master plan was designed with the consultant Dar al Handasah. This consultancy seeks to draw up a master plan for the airport because we need the terminals to accommodate 9-12 million passengers. The studies are currently ongoing and, for this reason, I cannot predict whether the expansion will be completed soon or further in the future. As for the financing of this project, it depends on the vision of the government. Any financing needs a decision from the government. It is likely that the financing will come via partnerships with the private sector. However, as with everything in Lebanon, we need an approval from the cabinet in order to issue an acceptance from private-sector investors.

The Cabinet has agreed to allocate USD28 million to improve security equipment at the airport. What is your strategy to improve security?

USD28 million has been transferred by the Ministry of Finance, and we now have a tender for five projects financed by this money. First, we have a referential agreement for scanners and X-rays that will be used mainly for vehicles and stowaways. The other four tenders are to buy dual-view X-ray scanners that can detect explosives and narcotics. We will also purchase body scanners as well as bomb containers to accommodate any explosives confiscated from suspects. In addition, we will purchase dual-view X-ray scanners for inbound packages. We also have about 800 cameras that should be installed from the checkpoint of the army to the airport, including throughout the terminal. The US government has provided a car equipped with X-ray as well as a shoe scanner, in addition to pieces of security equipment. At the end of the year, our airport will have tighter security as a result of this equipment, which will improve, strengthen, and enforce security in Lebanon and create a better experience for all travelers at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. Besides this equipment, we have two projects that are now in progress. One is the fence, which costs about USD6.4 million. Another is a baggage handling system, which also costs about USD6.4 million.

Turkish Airlines recently signed a cooperation agreement with MEA, which will increase the number of passengers. Besides this, what is your strategy to improve and increase the number of connections and companies operating in Lebanon?

We have a strategy to have more airlines coming to Lebanon. We believe this contact through airlines will strengthen relationships between people. For this reason, we follow this strategy, which we believe in. Economically, this will also increase the revenues of the state, which will benefit our country. Last year the airport saw 7.6 million passengers, and I foresee the number of passengers to grow to more than 8 million in total in 2017.

What are your main priorities and goals for the next year for the airport?

Our goals are to improve the security and safety of the airport. We have tenders as well as two main projects that are now ongoing. All these will ensure security and safety.