Dubai: A Libyan start-up airline based in Tripoli believes there is substantial appetite for air travel to and from Libya, including to Europe and North America, despite the country witnessing two civil wars in the past four years.
Libyan Wings, backed by private Libyan investors, started operations last month – about a year after it had originally planned – with a flight from Tripoli to Istanbul in Turkey on September 21. The route was cancelled a day later after Turkey introduced mandatory visas for Libyan nationals.
The airline is now flying twice daily to the Tunisian capital, Tunis, and will soon launch flights to Khartoum in Sudan, Libyan Wings Chief Executive Edgardo Badiali told reporters at an aviation conference in Dubai on Sunday.
Next month, Libyan Wings will resume flights to Istanbul, Badiali said, and is also looking at launching flights to Amman in Jordan and Beirut in Lebanon once it receives its second aircraft. The airline also wants to fly to Bamako in Mali and Niamey in Nigeria, he said.
But the carrier hopes that it will be able to start flights to the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and North America, where it sees a significant catchment of Libyan Diasporas. However, the European Commission has blacklisted all Libyan airlines from flying to Europe since December 2014.
Given the ban, the airline will focus on the “Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and a little bit of Sub Saharan Africa” for the near term, Badiali said, adding that if it can gain rights to the destinations it wants, it could be profitable in its first year.
“The market is there. It is very strong demand,” he said.
But Libya’s fractured political make-up that includes rival governments in the east and west of country has made it challenging for the airline to gain access to international cities. Badiali said some countries require submissions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country the foreign airline is from before grant landing rights. Tripoli, Libyan Wings base, is home to the non-internationally recognized government.
The Libyan airline is currently operating with just the one leased Airbus A319 featuring 12 business class seats and 108 economy class seats. It will receive a second leased A319 shortly. Badiali declined to say whom the aircraft have been leased from.
Libyan Wings signed a leasing agreement for two A319s with Dubai Aerospace Enterprise (DAE) in May 2014 but DAE Managing Director Khalifa Al Daboos told Gulf News in December 2014 the leasing agreement had been put on hold.
On Sunday, Al Daboos was not available to comment.
Libyan Wings is committing to purchasing seven aircraft from European manufacturer Airbus. In November 2013, the airline signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for three Airbus A350-900s and four A320neo’s (new engine options) at the Dubai Airshow. Badiali, who joined in February 2014 after the deal was signed, said the airline would still take the aircraft, which he said could be delivered from 2017 or 2018.
The airline is also interested in operating 40 to 70-seat turboprop aircraft but Badiali said there are no immediate plans to relaunch the once highly lucrative Tripoli-Benghazi domestic route.
Libyan Wings is operating out of Mitiga International Airport, a former military base that is about 5 kilometres outside of Tripoli. The cities main commercial airport, Tripoli International, has been left unusable after being severely damaged in the years of fighting in the country.