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
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
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.
Matar - Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer
- Departure: >> View
Movie << (2013-09-01)
- Arrival: >> View
Movie << (2013-09-01)