Lebanese national carrier, Middle East Airlines (MEA), will launch second daily flights to London Heathrow this month, even as it battles with declining passenger numbers.
MEA is seeking to counter the lull in regional demand by increasing long haul services. It will increase frequencies to the UK from its hub at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport on 17 April after the airline acquired a slot from Cyprus Airways for USD9m.
Having endured the Arab Spring, Lebanon’s travel and tourism sector is suffering under the weight of the Syrian refugee crisis, which is suppressing international arrivals to the country. It suffers further, as some countries in the Gulf have imposed bans on travel to the country.
“We are surviving,” Chairman Mohammad al-Hout said told the Daily Star newspaper. “We keep cash, control cost and believe in the future. We’re expecting to continue to make a profit this year but not as big as the years before. We are not expecting growth in passengers.”
Earnings are expected to reach USSD60m this year if the security situation stabilises, which keeps the airline in the black. Plans for an IPO have been put on hold however, as the prevailing climate poses high risk to growth prospects.
Nevertheless, MEA is proceeding with expansion plans, launching services to London in the spring, followed by two weekly flights to Khartoum, Sudan, in the summer. Theses additions come on the heels of recent expansion into Iraq, where MEA now flies to Baghdad, Basara, Erbil and Najaf.
With a fleet of four A330 wide-bodies, two A321s and 11 A320s, MEA has placed an order for 10 A320neos or A321neos for delivery in 2017, as it looks to increase its share in the regional market.