By Libya Herald reporters.
Tripoli, 20 October 2014:
The Libya Civil Aviation Authority has cleared Zuwara airport for international flights, despite continuing doubts . . .[restrict]about the airport’s facilities and rising concerns about the status of the LCAA itself.
The Authority’s spokesman, Mohamed Ghnewa today told the Libya Herald: ” We have sent the airport management our formal approval to start operating international flights”.
The news was received with delight by officials at Zuwara. Airport manager Muftah Hamisi told this newspaper: ” I think we have the abilities to improve and serve many people near to this area to travel from here rather than to drive long distance to Misrata”.
Yet doubts remain. Zuwara was first mooted as a replacement for Tripoli International this July. At the time local managers said they could handle international flights ,providing they had the support of the LCAA.
Among the shortcomings acknowledged then was a lack of apron space along with the absence of refuelling facilities. In addition, Zuwara’s runway is 1,800 metres, as opposed to the 3,600 metres of the destroyed Tripoli International Airport. Airbus 320s require a minimum take-off distance of 1,707 metres and landing distance of 1,540 metres.
However the challenges may go further than the physical limitations of Zuwara. It is possible that the entire airspace in western Libya could be closed to international flights.
The Thinni government has ordered the Libyan CAA to relocate to Beida. The response thus far has been equivocal. Gnewa told this newspaper last week that no formal request had been received from the government.
There have been allegations that CAA officials have been threatened in Tripoli. If the move to Beida does not go ahead, for whatever reason, the government could “disenfranchise” the present authority and establish a new CAA beyond Tripoli and the control of Libya Dawn.
From an operational perspective, the location of the “legitimate” CAA is irrelevant. With the destruction of the main Air Traffic Control installation at Tripoli International Airport, there has been no functioning ATC in Libya. The few international flights now moving in and out of Libyan airspace have been handled by Maltese ATC. Yet technically speaking the ATC remains a Libyan responsibility.
EUROCONTROL,the body that is ultimately responsible for flights to and from Libya, explained to the Libya Herald today that according international law governing airspace, the selection and safety assessment of ATC rested with the recognised national authority alone.
“So the decision about whether airspace remains open or closed would remain with the internationally-recognised government of Libya and whichever body they nominate to provide those services”.
EUROCONTROL says that in the event of a dispute as to who was really in charge of ATC, it would seek the advice of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
However, one industry insider has explained that while such an issue was being decided, it was likely that the airspace concerned would be shut down.
It is thus possible that international access to western Libya via Tripoli’s Mitiga, Misrata, to say nothing of Zuwara airports could be stopped, with Malta ATC being told to refuse to handle flights. This would affect the few foreign carriers still trying to run Libyan services. Among those impacted would be Turkish Airlines which is due to resume a daily Misrata-Istanbul service next week. [/restrict]