|Potential deal with Europe disturbs MEA - 'We weren't present at the meetings'|
|The chairman of national carrier Middle East Airlines reacted with surprise and disappointment over a deal reported earlier this week that was initialed between airport authorities and the European Commission (EC).
MEA chairman Mohammed Hout said the airline was excluded from talks for the tentative agreement which could negatively affect pervious bilateral agreements struck between Lebanon and individual European states.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an airport official told The Daily Star that the agreement could potentially remove preferential status for MEA from countries like Italy, where the Lebanese carrier is not subject to fuel taxation. The source refused to confirm or deny if such a scenario would be the result of the agreement, which faces government scrutiny and ratification over the next six months.
Hout said any deal struck unilaterally between the airport and the EC would contradict a series of meetings held by Lebanese and Arab Transport ministries that aimed to negotiate preferential status for regional carriers.
"We don't know what benefits the civil aviation is expecting in return," Hout said, "the national carrier was not present in the agreement. We read about it in the newspapers," he said. However Hout could not provide any specific details on the deal's potential economic consequences for MEA.
Civil Aviation authorities could not be reached for comment despite repeated requests, but a source said efforts would be made to ensure the agreement would not be "a step backward."
MEA, which recorded heal-thy profits in 2003 and 2002 thanks to a rise in the number of tourists and restructuring of the airline, has been badly affected by the open sky policy which was applied by the government in 2000.
Beirut,11 15 2004
The Daily Star