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French Version

MEA confident it can weather losses of $45 million

Middle East Airlines (MEA) suffered a loss of $45 million during the Israeli war and blockade but the company is capable of absorbing the losses, the chairman of the national carrier said Thursday.

"We were supposed to make a net profit of $29 million from July 13 to September 7 of this year.

If we add the direct losses of $16 million to the lost projected revenues then our losses will be $45 million," Mohammad Hout said at a news conference a few hours before the Israeli air blockade was finally lifted from Rafik Hariri International Airport.

The Israeli forces enforced an air and sea blockade on Lebanon since all-out war started on July 12.

As result of the blockade, MEA was forced to fly all its nine Airbus planes outside Lebanon for safety.

After the cease-fire MEA was then compelled to make a transit stop in Amman before landing in Beirut, triggering widespread anger and condemnation in Lebanon and internationally.

However, Hout said that MEA can weather the losses and cope with the current situation, pledging to continue serving its customers.

Government officials have said Israel was merely trying to inflict heavy damage on the Lebanese economy under the pretext of preventing arms smuggling to Hizbullah.

Economists said the daily cost of the war on Lebanese business was close to $50 million over the past eight weeks.

"The most important thing is the future. If the security and political situation in the country remains stable then we will able to recover the losses," said Hout.

This is the fist time in many years MEA recorded losses.

The carrier has seen its revenues and profits reach new highs since 2000.

The Central Bank, which controls 99 percent of MEA's shares, was hoping to sell its stake in the company as part of the government's program to privatize state-owned firms.

Hout said that MEA will resume all flights to its regular destinations as of Monday.

MEA flies to 19 different destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The chairman said that the cost of flying through Damascus and Amman during the war and blockade was 35 percent higher than flying to Beirut because of the increase in airborne hours.

"We were able to make a profit despite the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. We are confident that we will come out with positive figures soon."

He added that MEA will make 100 flights per week to all regular destinations and there won't be any change in plans.

Qatar Airways was the first to defy the blockade and landed its first plane at Rafik Hariri International airport three days ago.

Hout said MEA has asked all Arab airports to exempt the national carrier from regular fees.

He added that Damascus and Amman airports are already implementing fee exemption for MEA.

Hout denied reports that MEA passengers underwent any physical search by Jordanian authorities in Amman before arriving in Beirut

"These reports are false because MEA made a 55 minute stop at Amman airport only."

Several Arab and European airlines that flew to and from Rafik Hariri International airport before the war said that they will resume their normal operations in the coming days.

Beirut,09 11 2006
Osama Habib
The Daily Star
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