Calls for civilian airport in Tripoli intensify

Move would provide a useful alternative to Beirut airport located close to Hezbollah stronghold

Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer
13:52 February 12, 2017

Beirut: Lebanese MP Riad Rahal, a member of the Future Movement from the Akkar region, north of Tripoli, has urged officials to “begin work to revamp the Qlay‘at Military Airfield into a civilian airport immediately.”

A statement issued on Saturday by The Movement of Public Opinion in Akkar [MPOA], a new civil society organisation, hailed the social media campaign as a long overdue initiative.

Although the relatively neglected Akkar region provides Lebanon with a vast pool of young men who serve in the armed forces, it also houses a key airfield, the Rene Mouawad Airbase — Qlay‘at, named after the head-of-state assassinated in 1989, and which hosts a helicopter wing.

Officials now want to revitalise the region and, simultaneously, encourage Lebanon to have a second international gateway.

In fact, Qlay‘at offers a strategic alternative to Rafik Hariri International Airport [RHIA], which is located in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Dahiyah, and which poses potential security risks as its perimeter fence is too close to various Hezbollah strongholds.

Over the years, a controversial debate preoccupied the Lebanese to find an alternative civilian facility — whether at Qlay‘at or the Rayaq Airbase in the Bekaa Valley — precisely to avoid serious security breaches at RHIA.

The Qlay‘at facility has a 3,600-metre by 60-metre concrete runway and there are warehouses for fuel, areas for maintenance, spare parts, telecoms devices and radars.

All can be rehabilitated within a very short period of time, with plenty of room to build a large-scale civilian terminal capable of supplementing the capital’s facility.

A major rally in favour of the plans for a civilian airport organised by the MPOA was to take place on Sunday in the Tal Hayat area in Akkar under the slogan: “Qlay‘at ... is flying”.

Qlay‘at hosted intermittent passenger flights during the civil war (1975-1990).

Many Lebanese believe that the time is past due to renovate the Qlay‘at facility not only to improve economic conditions in north Lebanon but, and equally important, because most seek genuine security when they travel.

While strides were recently made at RHIA, it is often held hostage to Lebanese politics.