Monday, 2 June 2014

Interview: Abdulhakim Fares, Afriqiyah Airways Chairman

Afriqiyah shelves Libyan merger amid upsurge in violence

Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines have suspended plans for a merger as the two flag carriers' home market struggles to contain a simmering civil war.

"We are not working on this [merger] right now," Afriqiyah chairman Abdulhakim Fares said on the sidelines of the IATA AGM in Doha. "We are working together as friends, not competing. They [Afriqiyah and Libyan] may stay separate for some time."

Asked if the two companies – both subsidiaries of Libyan Afriqiyah Aviation Holding Company – will be merged by the end of the decade, Fares responded: "It's impossible to say."

Worsening violence across the North African country has steadily encroached into the aviation sector in 2014. A bomb was detonated on Tripoli Airport's runway in March, while Benghazi Benina Airport has been closed since mid-May because of a military assault by forces loyal to General Khalifa Hifter.

Afriqiyah had hoped to resume operations at Benina on 25 May, Fares said, but the airport will remain closed for "maybe another 10 days" while the clampdown on Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia continues.

"General Hifter started the fighting, and because of crossfire we cannot ensure it [the airport] is safe," he admitted. "We cannot risk passengers' lives."

Fares added that efforts to lift the so-called "voluntary ban" on Libyan carriers entering EU airspace have not progressed. "It's not fair," he said. "They say it's a CAA issue, but they're not doing anything to help us. Our security and safety is up to standard."

While the ban remains in place, some of Afriqiyah's Airbus A320s are being transferred to Air Contractor's Irish registry so that they can be deployed on European routes. The first unit (EI-ONJ) will begin flying to London Gatwick Airport this week, Fares confirmed.