Hamdi Chouk, Lebanon's civil aviation chief, says a series of sweeping new reforms are expected to catapult the recently completed facility "into the next era."
An unprecedented drive for deregulation, enhanced relations with the European Union
, and a horde of investment opportunities emerging from the opening of a VIP jet terminal - expected to be the only one of its kind in the Middle East - are just some developments that could easily boost activity and profits to levels not witnessed since the height of the local industry's heyday in the 1970s.
"This is a very, very important year for civil aviation," Chouk
said during an interview with The Daily Star
."For the first time, we might see 25 aircraft at all 25 gates at the same time," he
added, projecting at least a 20 percent jump in traffic over last year.
The former NASA researcher and pilot says he's
"very optimistic" about making critical progress toward the airport's 20-year modernization plan, which includes an elaborate cargo village and state of the art private jet hangar facility.In the coming months, Chouk
says Parliament will finally be willing to grant the airport its longstanding demand for financial and administrative autonomy, a trend sweeping the industry worldwide.
attributes recent gains to the "open skies" policy, which was implemented in 2002 to lift restrictions on incoming passengers and aircraft.
Removing the housing would cost some $30 million in compensation fees, Chouk
explains, explaining that the airport is currently manned by five separate security services. Additional measures were also taken after last year's crash of the Beirut-bound, Lebanese-owned UTA flight that killed over 100 people.
In light of that disaster, Lebanon now joins the US and England in imposing a "stop list" barring deficient airliners from entering Beirut
The first country in the Middle East to implement such a list, Lebanon has already banned five carriers from African and Eastern European states, according to Chouk
Although local security authorities are currently working with British and American officials, direct travel from US to Beirut and vice versa is still prohibited - "a political, not a technical issue," he says, which could also be resolved this year.
...In addition to a stint at NASA's research facility in Langley, Virginia, Chouk spent 18 years with the Australian defense ministry, and also worked for McDonnell Douglas.He
now heads the Middle East's only aeronautical engineering department at Balamand University
in North Lebanon.