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Like all Libyan carriers, Afriqiyah Airways is in a seemingly endless fight for survival.
But chairman, Mustafa Maatug, tells Martin Rivers he’s full of hope for the future.

Silver lining shines

through the fog of war
itiga Airport, Tripoli’s only are all together now. There is no split at
functioning gateway, resumed Afriqiyah at all.”
operations in December after it The chairman stressed that the Tripoli-
was closed for three months due to based carrier has encountered “no
airstrikes by Khalifa Haftar, the country’s problems” at its Benghazi station and
most powerful warlord. that “aviation in Libya has nothing to do
The disruption was just the latest blow with the political side”.
for Libya’s long-suffering airlines – their Although management have succeeded
previous hub, Tripoli International in keeping the airline alive, Afriqiyah’s
Airport, was destroyed in 2014 – yet network is a shadow of its former self.
Mustafa Maatug, the chairman of Just seven overseas markets are operated
Afriqiyah Airways, one of Libya’s state- on a scheduled basis: Tunis and Sfax in
owned flag-carriers, is quick to find a Tunisia; Istanbul in Turkey; Amman in
silver lining. Jordan; Alexandria in Egypt; Khartoum in
“This sort of problem is happening Sudan; and Niamey in Niger.
very rarely,” he said. “It happens from Charter flights are also operated to
time to time, but these problems will not Accra, Ghana.
stop us from operating.” The domestic network links Tripoli
The reality is that Afriqiyah, its fellow and Benghazi with Sabha and Kufra in
flag-carrier Libyan Airlines, and a the south, and Zintan and Misrata in the
handful of private operators are used to west. Misrata Airport, located 200km
such crises. east of Tripoli, served as the capital’s
Libya began its slide into civil war in temporary hub during the closure of
2011 amid the Arab Spring uprisings Mitiga Airport.
that engulfed the region. Hopes were Lagos, Nigeria and Cotonou, Benin are
high that the oil-rich nation would among the markets being evaluated for
embrace democracy after the overthrow future expansion – but the size of the
of its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. But fleet poses a challenge.
the militias who toppled him fell back on Afriqiyah currently deploys nine
to tribal loyalties and continued battling aircraft: five Airbus A320s, two A319s,
amongst themselves. one A330-300 and one A300 freighter. A
Power soon coalesced around two second A330-300 has been leased to
centres: a western government in Tripoli, Turkish Airlines, while four or five
which is backed by the United Nations; and an eastern
government in Tobruk, which is allied to Haftar’s troops
and supported by Egypt and the UAE.
Fractured in this way, Libya’s state-owned entities have
‘ Aviation
in Libya
aeroplanes are inoperable due to damage sustained in the war.
Talks are now under way with Airbus about replacing
Afriqiyah’s historic commitment for 10 wide-body A350s
with a mixed order that would lift the fleet to 20 units,
found it difficult to stay impartial. The two national airlines has nothing likely including A321neos.
are particularly exposed due to their operational presence “We’re a very good customer for Airbus,” Maatug said,
in both Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi. to do with predicting an announcement in the near future.
For Afriqiyah, these competing interests gave rise to However, deliveries are unlikely until the company
“split administrations” in the east and the west, according the political receives assurances that it can return to Europe. All Libyan
to The Libya Herald, with rival managers steering the carriers have been banned from the continent since 2012,
airline in two different directions. Once again, however,
Maatug downplayed the problem and insisted that the
leadership speaks with one voice.

when Brussels voiced “serious concerns” about the
oversight capabilities of the Libyan Civil Aviation
Authority. On that front, too, Maatug is full of optimism.
“Afriqiyah is one company and there is no split between “Shortly, Libya is going back to its normal position, so
the east and the west,” he said. “This rumour that you don’t you worry,” he affirmed. “We are very close to
heard is not true. We did have some administration Europe. Shortly this embargo will be lifted... When they lift
problems before, but now we have only one board and we the embargo, we are ready to go.” ■