A year after intense clashes destroyed Tripoli International Airport, the Airports Authority is planning to build a semi-permanent terminal and get international flights back up and running. Tom Westcott reports from Tripoli.
It is one year after Tripoli International Airport was caught up in a battle between rival militias, which saw Libya’s embryonic civil war spread across the country. Planes still lie in charred pieces on the runway, the air traffic control tower is riddled with holes from heavy artillery fire and the burnt-out terminal building has become a haven for birds.
After the 2011 revolution, which overthrew long-term dictator Muammar Qaddafi, armed groups that had fought in the uprising were tasked with providing security across the country.
Militias from the town of Zintan controlled the airport and some parts of the capital, while groups from the city of Misrata were in charge of securing other areas of Tripoli. However, during three years of post-revolutionary instability, tensions mounted between these former allies.
In July 2014, Misrata militias led an attack on the airport to expel the Zintan forces, and five days of intense fighting at the airport and three weeks of clashes in the surrounding area resulted in devastating losses for the aviation sector. The Zintan forces withdrew allowing the Misrata militias to advance on the capital 30 kilometres away, resurrecting the former parliament and creating a new government in opposition to the internationally recognised institutions.
While flames engulfed the terminal building, hangers were bombarded with heavy weaponry and aircraft worth millions of dollars were assaulted – sprayed with bullets, set ablaze or climbed over by fighters who posed for photos on the fuselage. Ten aircraft were completely destroyed and a further 10 damaged severely, with others sustaining minor damage.
A year later, on the fringes of the ravaged airport, engineers are now hard at work patching up the aircraft bullet holes. The Airports Authority has been working on plans to rebuild the ruins of the former terminal to create a semi-permanent replacement that could enable international operations to resume.
“We have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for rebuilding the terminal and work is expected to start at the end of this year,” said Libya Airports Authority director of air transport affairs Ibrahim Wali. The MoU is between the ministry of transport and Libya’s state-run Organisation for the Development of Administrative Centres (ODAC).
“They are still negotiating, so the final contract has not yet been signed but its value will be a minimum of LYD 100 million ($72 million),” he explained, adding that this could extend to as much as LYD 300 million ($216 million).
“As well as the terminal buildings, there is a lot of maintenance work to be completed and we will have to meet the minimum international requirements and regulations.” The airport’s air traffic control system and tower – riddled with holes from artillery fire – also requires a complete overhaul, as does the fire-fighting area and equipment. The airport’s two runways, however, were not damaged by the fighting and remain intact, needing only modest maintenance.
After discussing three different options, ODAC has decided on a two-floored semi-permanent terminal, with the capacity to handle around three million passengers. “The concrete sections of the terminal were not damaged so the new design will fit around these, incorporating some of the old structure,” Wali said. “The departure lounge will be new but the arrivals hall will be the same because this was not badly damaged.”
The work will be subcontracted to foreign partners, he explained. With European companies still reluctant to work in Libya, not least because no European embassies have missions in the country at present, Wali predicted that the partner companies were likely to be either Turkish or Egyptian.
“This will be a temporary terminal that could last between five and eight years, basically until the French company working on the new airport can return,” Wali explained.
In 2007, a contract with an estimated value of LYD2.54 billion ($1.8 billion) for the expansion of Tripoli International Airport was awarded to French company Aeroport de Paris International (ADPI), with works undertaken by Brazilian firm Odebrecht in a joint venture with Turkish and Greek companies. “The new airport should have been finished by the end of 2015. The contract still exists and these companies will come back, they have to, but they can’t come back yet,” he said.
In the wake of four years of post-revolution instability, successive faltering governments and an on-going civil war, the country is on the brink of economic collapse but, Wali insists, there is money to fund the rebuilding of the airport. “The money is already there as ODAC had another project with the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority (LYCAA) which is stable, so the money for that project will be transferred to this one,” he explained. “The money is there and work on the new terminal is expected to start by the end of this year.”
In preparation for this, clearance operations by a Libyan scrap metal company are already under way.
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