By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 21 February 2013:
In a surprise move by the Libyan authorities, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines, which had suspended flights . . .[restrict]to Tripoli on 5 February over security concerns, have been refused permission to return.
As customers in Vienna boarded Austrian Airlines’ first flight back to Tripoli yesterday, Wednesday, they were told, according to one passenger, that Tripoli airport “was indefinitely delaying landing rights to both airlines.”
The passenger said that some customers decided not to proceed with their journey, while others were transferred to flights via Istanbul, arriving in Tripoli today, a day later than intended. Others travelled to London and flew on Afriqiyah Airways.
It is being reported in Tripoli that that Lufthansa is hoping to try to run its daily flight to Tripoli tomorrow, Friday, and that Austrian Airlines is still planning to run its Vienna to Tripoli flight on Sunday.
However, an official at Tripoli airport told the Libya Herald this evening that Lufthansa’s and Austrian Airlines’ flights would be blocked for at least a week.
The airport source said that the view was that, since the two airlines had stopped flights to Libya because of concerns about security, “they had best stay away for another week because the security was no different.”
A spokesperson for Lufthansa, Aage Duenhaupt, told the Libya Herald that the airline “would not call it a ban.” He said that, although they had not yet been given a date when they could fly into Tripoli: “The aviation authorities are working on restoring our flight plan and traffic rights, and we need to await their approval.”
Although Duenhaupt was not able to confirm the number of passengers affected by this change of circumstances, he said that it was not likely that the figures were high. He added that passengers “would be rebooked onto other airlines, following normal procedures.”
The move could have a knock-on effect on trade relations and there is a risk that Lufthansa, which is the largest carrier in Europe and a popular choice with American businessmen flying to Tripoli, could pull out altogether. “It can survive without the Tripoli route,” said one aviation expert who called the Libya decision a “tit-for-tat move” more reminiscent of the Qaddafi regime.
The block on flights by both airlines, Lufthansa owns Austrian, throws into doubt the arrival of an Austrian trade delegation which which was due in Tripoli on Monday.