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Mohamad A. El-Hout

LEBANON - Transport

Phoenix Risen

Chairman, Middle East Airlines

Bio

Mohamad A. El-Hout was born in 1959 and was educated at the American University of Beirut, obtaining his MBA in 1984. He is currently the Chairman of Middle East Airlines. Previous positions have included Head of Real Estate and Financial Assets Department at the Central Bank of Lebanon, as well as Advisor to the Governor (Crisis Management) at the same institution. He is also a Member of the Executive Committee of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO).

What have been some of the milestones for Middle East Airlines (MEA) over recent years? When the Board of Directors took office in early 1998, it set for itself goals […]

What have been some of the milestones for Middle East Airlines (MEA) over recent years?

When the Board of Directors took office in early 1998, it set for itself goals that can be summed up as building an airline that would be a source of pride for passengers, for Lebanon, and for MEA employees. After 15 years, we were able to achieve these goals by implementing a restructuring plan, reviewing the network, and increasing the level of service. Despite the challenging political and security crises that Lebanon witnessed in past years, MEA was able to achieve positive financial results for 12 consecutive years. Today, MEA operates one of the most modern fleets in the world and preserves the highest safety standards, thus earning the loyalty of its passengers.

You recently signed an agreement with Airbus to upgrade your planes. How would you assess your fleet?

MEA operates one of the most modern fleets in the world. The average life of the company’s aircraft is less than four years. The MEA Board of Directors decided not to keep any aircraft more than 12 years old, so we are constantly renewing our fleet. This is done partly through expansion and partly by replacement. In 2012, MEA signed a firm contract for 10 A320/321 neo family aircraft, which offer fuel burn savings and reliability, as well as a modern and comfortable cabin. However, MEA will announce its engine choice at a later date.

What are your most significant routes today, and are you planning to increase the number of routes and frequency?

All destinations are significant for MEA. In Europe, Paris is the most popular destination, and MEA has four flights per day to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), although we fly to most European cities on a daily basis. In the Gulf, we have 36 flights per week to Saudi Arabia, and up to five flights a day. MEA is not a long-haul operator; it covers Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Gulf area. We also have operations from four points in Iraq: Baghdad, Erbil, Najaf, and Basra. In July 2013, MEA launched its Yerevan route, and the airline looks forward to launching flights to Sudan as of November 2013.

“ MEA operates one of the most modern fleets in the world. The average life of the company’s aircraft is less than four years. “

In terms of passenger numbers for 2013, what are you expecting?

We are expecting 2.3 million passengers. Additionally, we anticipate around 6.2 million passengers through Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut, a 5% increase on 2012 figures.

How would you assess air transport in Lebanon?

Air transport in Lebanon has many positive dimensions, and the country has an open skies policy. However, MEA does not have free access to all other markets, even though our market is open to all other airline companies, meaning that competition is unfair. For example, Emirates, and flydubai have five flights per day from Dubai to Beirut. We wanted to increase the frequency of MEA flights from two to three per day to Dubai; however, the UAE officials replied that there were no additional slots available. Secondly, we do not have effective anti-trust rules and competition laws in Lebanon. For example, if an airline decides to implement a discount policy to undercut the competition (price dumping), you can do nothing about it. The political situation is not helping us regain stability. The countries of the GCC have urged their citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon or staying in the country as “a safety precaution,” which has affected the number of Gulf, Middle Eastern, as well as the European tourists, so MEA is losing many of its business-class passengers. An increase in the number of passengers in reality means an increase in the number of economy-class passengers. Overall, we have seen a decrease in yield; it has dropped some 25% in economy class in the past four years due to the competition. Despite all of these circumstances, we are still making a profit. We have to restore stability, and then it will be very easy to regain the trust of the tourist market.

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