Planes to Fly Longer as Russia Asks that Beirut Flights Avoid Area over Mediterraneanإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Russia asked Lebanon Friday to ensure that flights from Beirut airport avoid an area over the eastern Mediterranean for the next three days, Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Zoaiter said.
Russia, which is carrying out air strikes in Syria, "has asked the Lebanese authorities that planes leaving Beirut airport towards the west avoid overflying an area in Mediterranean territorial waters because of maneuvers on Saturday, Sunday and Monday," he said.
Zoaiter said Lebanese authorities had "reservations about the Russian request" and were "studying it."
Middle East Airlines, Lebanon's national carrier, later said that “all of Saturday's flights will take off on time.”
“In line with the memo issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation about using a new air route between Lebanon and Cyprus, all of Saturday's flights will take off on time but some flights to the Arab Gulf countries and the Middle East will spend more time in the air due to the new air routes,” MEA said.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Ambassador to Cyprus Youssef Sadaqa told Lebanon's National News Agency that negotiations between MEA's office in Cyprus and the Cypriot civil aviation directorate had ended with an agreement on "a secure air route for Lebanese flights."
"This route will be over the southern region" of the Mediterranean, he added.
Lebanon's Directorate General of Civil Aviation later reassured that "flight operations at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport will not be interrupted."
The Transport Ministry meanwhile announced the creation of “an emergency cell” tasked with “taking the necessary measures and establishing communication with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the relevant aviation authorities to maintain takeoff and landing operations while abiding by the highest standards of public safety.”
Later, a senior airport official said discussions were underway with the Russian authorities on the routes flights would take.
Rather than departing towards the west, or approaching from that direction, flights would be directed to first fly south above Sidon and Sarafand to "keep them away from the perimeter of the maneuvers," he said.
While no details were given on where the Russian exercises would take place, the Syrian coast is due north of Lebanon's, so redirecting air traffic to the south would lower any risks.
No details were available on the nature of the maneuvers, as Moscow has made no public announcement about them and officials at the Russian defense ministry could not be reached for comment when contacted by AFP.
In Beirut, the foreign ministry said Lebanon had "not received any official request... from Moscow. It was the Lebanese air traffic control that received a fax from the Russian navy."
In remarks to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), Zoaiter had said that he contacted Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Tammam Salam to "take the appropriate stance."
LBCI television said Zoaiter met with the airport director and the director general of civil aviation and that the conferees discussed the possibility of "maintaining aviation through replacing the northern route with a southern route over Sarafand."
NNA had earlier reported that "the relevant airport authorities have received a cable from the Russian navy saying that it will stage three days of naval exercises and drills according to specific coordinates as of midnight."
“This will have a direct impact on Lebanon's airspace and on aviation from and to Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport, which will bring air traffic to a near halt,” NNA quoted the airport authorities as saying.
“Even if Cypriot authorities agree to this, most airlines will suspend their flights from and to Lebanon due to distance and other logistic reasons related to aviation,” Lebanese airport authorities said.
LBCI had earlier reported that Moscow had asked Lebanon to “divert civilian flights from Lebanese airspace to international airspace as of midnight” and that “the request also involves neighboring countries.”
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat slammed what he called the Russian “orders” to Lebanon.
“The Russians have asked us to close our airspace for three days … Does (Foreign) Minister (Jebran) Bassil know of this? What a successful visit to Moscow!” Jumblat tweeted, referring to an official visit Bassil made to Moscow on Tuesday.
“We do not want to become another Moscow neighborhood and there should be respect for Lebanese sovereignty,” he added.