The Malta Independent 8 December 2019, Sunday

Medavia planning domestic Libyan flights

Sunday, 10 February 2019, 08:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

Mediterranean Aviation Company Ltd (Medavia) expects to expand and begin offering internal, domestic flights in Libya, in addition to its current service from Malta to Libya.

Forbes reports that the new airline, provisionally named Medlib, or Medavia Libya, is in the process of applying for an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) from the Libyan Civil Aviation Authority.

Moreover, all Libya’s airlines have been banned from flying to the European Union since 2012 because of possible shortcomings in regulatory oversight. If Medlib launches flights to Malta it would be able to circumvent the ban by using the AOC of its sister carrier, Medavia Aviation Operations Ltd (Medops), which at present provides charter and contract flying services from its base in Malta.

Medops already operates five flights per week from Malta to Mitiga with its own fleet, which is the only regular air link between Libya and the European Union.

“The overall idea is to offer more frequent, reliable services between the Libyan cities,” chief executive Rammah Ettir told Forbes in an interview. 

The AOC is expected to be to be granted in the second half of this year, meaning scheduled flights could take off in 2020

Medlib plans to initially focus on domestic connectivity, with flights operating from Tripoli to cities such as Benghazi, Sebha, Misrata, Zintan, Labraq, Kufra, Ghat and Tobruk.

Its fleet will be based at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport. 

Libya is currently served by two state-owned flag-carriers – Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines – as well as privately owned Libyan Wings and Buraq Air.

“If we manage to succeed in the domestic [market, I’m] sure there will be a request to go for regional routes,” Ettir was quoted as saying, and he identified Malta, Djerba in Tunisia, and Alexandria and Luxor in Egypt as possible targets.

Medavia was established in 1978 as a joint venture between the governments of Malta and Libya. Air Malta sold its shareholding in 2011, leaving the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company (LAFICO) as Medavia’s sole owner.

This eventually led to protestations by the European Union over foreign ownership rules, prompting LAFICO to sell 51 per cent of Medops to Air Nostrum, a Spanish regional airline, two years ago.

The resumption of scheduled Malta-Tripoli flights, meanwhile, is possible despite sanctions imposed on Libya, although certain conditions would have to be observed, a European Commission official told this newspaper recently.

According to a government statement, the resumption of flights between Malta and Tripoli was on the agenda during the recent visit of Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya Fayez Al-Sarraj.

Answering questions from this newspaper, the Commission official also noted that while there was no need for Malta or Libya to notify it of these flights, all Libyan airlines were listed on the EU Air Safety List.

“The EU Air Safety List (ASL) – formerly referred to as the ‘EU blacklist’ – is a list of air carriers from non-EU countries which do not fulfil the necessary international safety standards. The carriers on the ASL are banned from operating to, in and from the EU.”

A tourism ministry spokesperson confirmed that developments along such lines are “expected in the coming months,” adding that “the resumption of scheduled flights to and from Libya are desired by both the Maltese and Libyan governments.”

“The Ministry for Tourism is currently in discussions with the authorities in Libya on the possible introduction of scheduled flights to and from Tripoli’s Mitiga airport. Various options are currently being considered and discussed with various operators.”

Last month, Air Malta CCO Paul Sies confirmed that talks were underway on the possibility of Air Malta resuming flights between Malta and Libya. Currently, only Medavia is operating flights between Malta and Tripoli, using a turbo-prop aircraft.

But in the meantime, LAFICO itself is in a spot of bother, with  the chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority having been arrested earlier this week on corruption and embezzlement charges, just a week before a London court hearing against rival chairmen.

The LIA is Libya’s main sovereign wealth fund, Africa’s largest, and is in charge of investments estimated at over US$66 billion, which are managed from the LIA’s two offices – one in Tripoli, and one in Malta.

The LIA’s subsidiary in Malta, the Libyan Arab Foreign Investment Company Ltd (LAFICO), has wide-ranging business interests in Malta, some of which are in partnership with the government.  These include investments in the Corinthia Group, the Vivaldi and Milano Due hotels, Medavia and Medelec.

It was the head of the Investigations Bureau at Libya’s Attorney General’s Office, Siddiq Al-Sour, who issued an arrest warrant for LIA chairman Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was actually arrested on Wednesday at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.

So far, the Libyan government has not made any official statement on the reports.

An LIA spokesperson was quoted as saying yesterday: “The LIA is shocked by the allegations against Dr Mahmoud and his reported treatment today. The LIA is confident that Dr Mahmoud will be found innocent of all allegations. Dr Mahmoud and the LIA have been working hard to secure the assets and interests of the LIA for the benefit of Libya and the Libyan people.”

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