During a time of revolution, foreign military intervention, no fly zones, economic sanctions and the senseless killing of those who simply want their voice to be heard it may be hard to find the silver lining in anything, especially a story on airlines … but in Libya there is the potential for a stronger national flag carrier when the nation settles down.
Presently the Libyan government owns two international airlines, both operating as the national flag carriers of Libya. Libyan Airlines began flying in October 1965, but was forced to cease its international routes in 1992 due to international sanctions imposed by the United Nations. At the time the U.N. sanctions were eased and Libyan airlines were allowed to fly internationally again in 2001, the Libyan government formed Afriqiyah Airways, which started flying in December 2001.
Given that Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways are both owned by the Libyan African Aviation Holding Company, both airlines serve international destinations throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, with overlapping routes, including major destinations such as London, Rome, Milan, Jeddah and Dubai, the merging of these two airlines is financially and strategically beneficial for Libya’s economy.
There has been considerable talk about the merger of Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways, dating back to 2009. The Libyan Government was expected to approve the merger of the two airlines by the 15th of October 2010, however internal politics; corruption and favoritism seem to have interfered with the merger of the two carriers. Rather than benefiting from a unified national airline, the two airlines continue to compete with each other, increasing operating costs, decreasing profits and reducing potential logical routing options for flyers. If there is a change in government and the shift to a democratic society, there is the potential for a streamlined single Libyan national flag carrier that can compete regionally and globally.
Both Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways fly modern fleets, both airlines have orders with Airbus for new aircraft capable of serving destinations in Asia, The Americas and Europe. The airlines have a share hub in Tripoli, the airline fleets have aircraft commonality and combined the airlines have the potential to spend US$5.6-billion on new aircraft over the next two years.
A combined route network of Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways and a planned international fleet (both existing aircraft and aircraft on order) of 20 Airbus A320s, 3 A319s, 7 A330-200s and 10 A350-800s would allow a Libyan flag carrier to compete with regional rivals such as Egyptair and Royal Air Maroc, with the upper hand of their new hub terminal at Tripoli International Airport. . Tripoli International Airport’s new 1,743,753 square foot terminal that was due to open this month and is capable of handling 20,000,000 passengers annually.
As Libya battles its own national politics and a revolution is afoot, maybe there is the opportunity for these two airlines to shine and stand out, as they should. Airlines are not only a symbol of national pride, but also a vital economic tool … and the people of Libya deserve every opportunity to make the most out of their future potential, with their national airline and international airport hub leading the way economically.