TRIPOLI Libya's two state-owned airlines could be merged by the first quarter of 2013, the country's interim transport minister said, in a move hoped to create a major state-run carrier that could be eventually privatised.
Efforts to restructure Libya's aviation sector, disrupted by the country's nine-month civil war, are expected to resume over the next few months.
"We are looking for having one Libyan airline instead of two and so we can compete in the international market," Yousef el-Uheshi told Reuters in an interview.
Libyan Airlines and Afriqiyah Airways, both controlled by the state-owned Libyan African Aviation Holding Company, have been in negotiations about a merger for several years but the plan has been repeatedly delayed.
"The most important thing is that we decide. There's a consensus in the Libyan aviation community that one company would be more competitive. We're hoping to start with (merger process) possibly in March, God willing."
Uheshi said completing the merger would take 10 to 12 months if a decision was taken to start with it in March.
The two carriers have seen rapid growth since international sanctions on Libya were lifted in 2004.
Uheshi said that once the company was able to compete with major carriers and become attractive to competitors it could be listed in the stock market should the government decide to adopt a privatisation policy.
FACE OF LIBYA
The transport minister, an aviation specialist, said work on expanding Tripoli International Airport, a project that was stalled during the civil war, would resume within a few months.
The airport's expansion, which started in 2007 and experienced several delays, includes building two terminals in the eastern and western sides of the airport, aircraft parking, an additional runway, car parks, roads and bridges, and other related facilities such as fueling systems.
The project, which includes contractors from Turkey, Brazil, Italy, and France, cost between 6 billion and 7 billion dinars, Uheshi said.
He said the eastern terminal would be operational within four years once construction resumed while the western terminal was expected to be completed in five years. The old terminal would be renovated and dedicated to domestic flights.
Uheshi said the government plans to massively increase the capacity of the airport to handle 24 million passengers, including 4 million domestically by 2030, from a total of 4 million handled before the war.
"When finished, the project (airport) will be so big that it will change the face of Libya and Tripoli," he said.
He said he welcomed dialogue with airport operators, including BAA which handles six British airports, to manage the expanded airport.