Lebanon Airport: A Pilot Project or Stealing Sand?
By: Thaer Ghandour
Published Tuesday, February 7, 2012
A declared construction project at Beirut’s airport appears to be a smokescreen to sell the dug out dirt for the benefit of top airline officials.
It is as if the sun never rises on Beirut without a scandal descending on Lebanon’s international airport.
Mohammad al-Hout, chairman of the country’s national airline, Middle East Airlines (MEA), seems to treat the company as if it were his own private enterprise, where he has planted relatives and friends in key posts in order to exercise full control.
According to officials who work at the company, this has led to the emergence of a large number of transgressions. Some of these violations pose a threat to the safety of civil aviation in Lebanon, not to mention the company’s reputation.
The “al-Hout company” has recently decided to construct a building for training pilots on the airport premises. The airport complex already contains a two-year-old building that was constructed a few meters away from the designated location of the new building.
No one knows the reason behind constructing the new building, which will be used as a training center. Several pilots have confirmed that the old building is big enough to accommodate an advanced training center and that all that is missing is new equipment. Nevertheless, al-Hout has decided to construct a new building for a purpose that he alone knows.
Theoretically, the scheme began two years ago but, practically, what has been going on has little to do with construction. Instead, it is about the sand dug out at the building site.
According to the MEA website, “the Training and Development Center is in the process of renovating itself through a complete revision to its mission, functions, and facilities to embrace the most modern techniques in the art of professional airline training.”
In the past few days, the union representing airline employees and workers in Lebanon sent letters to President Michel Suleiman, Minister of Interior Marwan Charbel, and Minister of Tourism Fadi Abboud that addressed the issue of collecting large amounts of sand and selling them to construction sites.
This operation is ongoing even though airport workers had assumed that it stopped.
Thus far, the dimensions of the pit from which sand has been removed are as follows: 200m in length, 75m in width, and 15m in height. A quick calculation shows that the amount of sand collected is 225,000m3.
According to construction sector experts, the capacity of sand that a truck can normally carry is 20m3. Furthermore, the minimum price of 1m3 of sand is US$20. Thus, the equivalent price of one truck of sand is US$400.
If we divide 225,000m3 over 20m3 per truck, we can deduce that 11,250 trucks of sand have been collected from Beirut airport. The average price of this amount of sand is US$4.5 million.
The matter, however, does not end here. Among the victims of this building is a greenhouse that belongs to the municipality of Beirut, which has been transferred to Qasqas area.
Rola al-Ajooz, head of the environmental committee in the previous municipal council, and who is close to MEA, as she herself indicated, confirms that this land belongs to Beirut airport and not the municipality.
Al-Akhbar could not reach al-Hout, because he was traveling overseas. Instead, his office staff stated that they did not have any information regarding the sands issue and that they were unable to provide any answer.
However, some Beirut airport workers say that the MEA administration has abandoned the plan for the construction of the training center. They take as evidence the fact that the contractor has not taken any practical steps besides collecting sand from time to time.
The issue at Beirut airport is not limited to the fate of this large amount of sand.
Trans Sayegh Airport Services (TSM) was contracted by MEAS, a company affiliated with MEA, to handle baggage inside the airport. MEAS’s chairman is MP Ghazi Youssef, who rarely pays visits to the company headquarters, according to airport workers.
A legal source believes that Youssef’s position violates the law which prohibits MPs from heading up companies that are publicly funded.
Every month, TSM receives an amount equivalent to Lebanese lira (LL) 155 million (US$103,000) in order to pay the salaries of 160 workers. This may seem normal, except for the fact that the company does not pay the workers at all. Its excuse is that passengers tip the workers for carrying their bags.
Company employees, for their part, are reluctant to raise the issue, because their current monthly income is several times more than what the company would have paid them.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.