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Beirut International Airport

A doorway opening to the skies! What a theme full of poetry do we have here! To take to the air or to land, to leave solid ground, to fly, to descend and to touch down! Not so very long ago this was no more than a dream, pure magic. Icarus fell to his doom because of his soaring ambition, but the dream became real as technology over the last three centuries opened the way to higher performance and to power in flight. First there were hot-air balloons, then ones filled with gas, then airships riding the clouds, until now we have aircraft of which the most advanced exceed the speed of sound.

I remember the two earliest airports in Lebanon, the one at Rayak in the Beqaa and that of Bir Hassan-Ouzai in the sandy waste near Beirut laid down just after the Second World War. Here one should remember that before the war civil aircraft were mostly carriers of airmail from one country to another or from one continent to another. For long distances they had to make several stops on the way. It was only after the war that members of the general public began to travel by air, in small machines that carried barely twenty passengers. At the same time the military were using aircraft for a variety of purposes, for transport and for readiness as fighters or bombers in the event of renewed warfare.

A friend once confided to me that about the year 1940 he had once passed through the airfield of Bir Hassan near Beirut for a flight with three stop-overs, at Cairo, Benghazi and Tunis, before flying over the Mediterranean to Marignane near Marseille, and from there to Paris, before taking the train. A trip that now takes three hours in those days took almost three days!

But then Beirut International Airport was laid out at Khaldeh, with two asphalt runways, one 3,250 meters long and the other 3,180. At the time Khaldeh was said to be among the twelve largest airports in the world. Whether this was true or not matters little, since everything was running smoothly.

In those days Beirut International Airport could be said to serve the city of Beirut, but now it serves the whole of Lebanon, which has in effect become one big city. Even in the early days it was thoroughly up-to-date and operating effectively, with several international airlines making use of it and four new Lebanese companies becoming operational.

In 1968, on December 28th to be precise, Interior Minister Raymond Eddeh had foreseen an Israeli attack and asked for reinforcements to protect the airport, but his call fell on deaf ears. On the same day an Israeli commando attacked the airport and destroyed thirteen aircraft belonging to the fleet of Middle East Airways.

During the fifteen years of fighting in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, MEA and TMA alone continued to operate, with the airport practically at a standstill but not entirely shut down. In 1982 the renovated terminal was destroyed by Israeli enemy forces. In 1983 the headquarters of the United States forces belonging to the multinational peace force was the object of a suicide attack which killed 241 military personnel of whom 220 were marines.

A program of reconstruction was subsequently launched. This entailed a new terminal, two new runways, a fire station, a powerhouse, a subterranean parking lot, radar, and a control tower among other features. The first phase was finished in 1998 and the construction of the West Wing completed in the year 2000.

The airport can now receive six million travelers per year and this figure will be increased to sixteen million in the year 2015. There is a new runway 3,395 meters long close to the shore which puts some distance between the air traffic and the town, so improving safety and reducing the nuisance of noise. Construction of another runway 3,800 meters long parallel to the first is under way. Both will be of concrete and twenty-seven meters above sea level. After the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 the airport was named after him.

It is thoroughly modern and equipped to provide many services, with a unit for special attention and assistance for children, the sick, and the handicapped. There will be provision for vehicles, a VIP Cedar Lounge, meteorological and statistical and internet services, and a Duty Free zone for the purchase of both Lebanese and foreign products.

The airport already has an atmosphere that is welcoming for businessmen, tourists and travelers of all classes. They are put at ease as the Customs, security forces and other officials do all that is necessary to control the coming and going, and the smooth running of the whole organization. A carefully controlled taxi service assures rapid transport for travelers both ways.

To come to Lebanon is to take a step towards paradise; the wings of its cedars soar in the heavens as well as in all hearts.

Joseph Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

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Beirut International Airport - Departure: >> View Movie << (2013-09-01)
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Beirut International Airport - Arrival: >> View Movie << (2013-09-01)

 

 


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