Operating in Lebanon

By David Esler
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation

Beirut Airport has some of the best security in the Middle East. It is ironic that in some countries where there has been unrest or threats from outside (e.g., Israel), the airport can be the safest place to be due to heightened security considerations. OLBA offers some of the best ground handling anywhere, as it appears that the field is very well organized and welcoming to business and private aviation.

Attuned to Business Aviation

Andrew Wilkinson, standards captain at PepsiCo and left seat on the trip into Beirut crewed by Steve Ragland mentioned earlier, praised OLBA as “great, really professional. They are organized for you when you arrive with assigned general aviation parking on the north side by Terminal B. There are startup and pushback procedures at the FBO — you are directed to request permission to start from the tower, but the published procedures for pushback on the general aviation apron are not practiced. The reality is that you just start up and go and there is no need to pushback.”

Wilkinson offered a “heads up” on a charting omission for an arrival procedure. “On one of the STARS, there's a note that says to call Beirut Control before crossing the FIR — we arrived from Cairo, and it says to contact ATC before entering the FIR. It is a published standard arrival, but this advisory is not on the en route part of the Jepp FD app. SILKO is the fix, and we were on the SILKO ONE arrival from the west.”

Ragland — his copilot on the September 2012 visit — added that “The city is situated like a California coastal city — there's a thin strip of beach, then hills that rise very quickly. The high ground is to the north and east of the airport; however, most maneuvering is over the water.”

When planning trips to international destinations, especially unstable ones like Lebanon, operators will often begin by checking the U.S. State Department website for a security briefing — which more often than not will state that travel is not recommended. “But in my experience,” Ragland said, “you need to weigh that against reality. So, call to your folks on the ground there to find out what is really going on, and make your decision that way.”

The drop-in last September was “a benign trip for us,” Ragland continued, “because of the presence of the pope [Benedict XVI], who was visiting; security was everywhere and everyone was on their best behavior. As soon as we got to the hotel, I hailed a cab and went through the city and saw all my old stomping grounds where I'd spent my formative years.”

The son of Beirut Baptist School administrators, Ragland spent his first 15 years growing up in Beirut, a halcyon life interrupted by the Lebanese civil war. His parents promptly sent him to the U.S. to live with relatives. After graduation from Oklahoma State University, he joined the U.S. Air Force, was accepted for flight training (he'd already earned his private pilot license in college), and wound up flying KC-135s in Desert Storm, the 1990 war against Saddam Hussein's Iraqi incursion into Kuwait. “I was back in the Middle East . . . but not under the best of circumstances,” he said.

His parents remained in Beirut until retiring in 1987. “They were well known in our neighborhood, and there were people who looked out for them,” he told BCA.

We asked Ragland if it is going to be “Battleground Lebanon” again. “The little proxy wars that have devastated modern Lebanon are regionalist within the country. It is important to remember that Lebanon is a fairly small place. The north now is not a good place to go because the Syrian civil war has spilled across the border. Beirut, however, is as good a place as always [almost!] to go.”

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