Four months since the last flight took off, airlines in Libya are being allowed to resume some activity. Having closed its land and air borders in March to protect its population from coronavirus, yesterday saw the first aircraft taking off from the country, with initial flights to its close ally Turkey.
First flights from Misrata
The first flight was conducted by Libyan Wings Airlines to Istanbul from Misrata International Airport. Libyan Wings flies a modest fleet of four A319 aircraft and has bases at both Misrata and Tripoli. Misrata is a town on the coast of Libya around 116 miles east of Tripoli.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Misrata is the first Libyan airport to reopen, although Mitiga airport is set to reopen in August. Mitiga suffered extensive bomb damage during Khalifa Hafter’s 24-month war on Tripoli. The war ended in June and the airport has been undergoing maintenance work ever since.
For now, Misrata is the only connection from Libya to the outside world. It has restarted an airport shuttle service from the capital as part of the flight restart.
One way flights
So far, flights are in one direction only. Airlines are allowed to take passengers out of Libya, but not to bring anyone back. This is intended to facilitate people returning to their home country from Libya, or indeed heading to other nations for work.
Since Libyan Wings took the first flight out of the country, other airlines too followed suit. Afriqiyah Airways, a state-owned carrier, was the next to take off will commercial flights to Istanbul. Afriqiyah has nine A320 family aircraft in its fleet, which would have been used on this service. It also has three A330s and orders in for 10 A350-900s, which should have started arriving this year.
Afriqiyah’s A350s were hoped to take the carrier further afield, with routes to the United States and Asia. However, it remains to be seen how the current crisis will affect the carrier, and whether these aircraft will still be taken up.
The third airline to take off from Libya was Buraq Air, a small charter and commercial airline which usually flies into Turkey, Tunisia, and Tobruk in Libya. As Tunisia is yet to reopen its borders to Libyan carriers, Buraq was also limited to flying into Istanbul for its launch destination.
What about Tripoli?
It’s unusual to have a capital city with no bespoke airport, but Tripoli in Libya is one such city. The airport has been closed intermittently since 2011 as a result of conflicts. It first closed for most of 2011 as the United Nations Security Council declared Libya a no-fly zone but reopened in October that year.
However, in 2014 it closed again after militia from Misrata tried to take over the airport. Due to the fierce fighting involved, around 20 aircraft were destroyed along with 90% of the airport’s infrastructure. The airport is still at risk of violent clashes and, due to the damage sustained, is no longer suitable to be used for air traffic. For now, the people of Libya will have to endure the 100-mile trek to the neighboring airport if they want to fly away.