The world’s largest passenger jet has landed at Beirut’s international airport, bringing with it hopes of a sustained revival to Lebanon’s tourism and travel sectors.
The one-off Emirates Airbus A380 flight from Dubai was a nod to the substantial passenger traffic between Lebanon and Gulf nations, where many Lebanese nationals work, and many more pass through on the way to destinations farther afield.
Emirates said it scheduled the flight, the first of its kind to carry paying passengers to Beirut, to see if the airport was ready to handle regular A380 service.
Lebanese officials will hope the results return positive, as tourism arrivals climb to levels last seen in 2010.
Lebanon welcomed 1.85 million tourists in 2017, according to the Tourism Ministry, the most since 2.16 million came in 2010, after which civil strife in Syria and political uncertainty in Lebanon sent the industry into a protracted depression.
There are nine flights daily from Dubai to Beirut, on three different carriers.
Tourism is one of the key pillars of Lebanon’s economy, contributing to 19 per cent of the country’s GDP, according to the UK-based World Travel and Tourism Council.
However, Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport, Lebanon’s only commercial airfield, is sorely out-of-date and lines at security can stretch for hours in the summer months, when throngs of expatriates visit the country for business and pleasure.
The airport, renovated in 1992 after the civil war, is designed to handle six million passengers annually. In 2017, it saw over eight million, according to the airport’s research department. Its gate areas are grimy and gloomy – a poor reflection of politicians’ outsized ambitions for the national tourism industry.
Lebanon’s cabinet and the country’s flagship airline, Middle East Airlines, are considering two plans to expand and improve the airport’s facilities, one costing $US88 million ($A115 million) and the other $US200 million ($A260 million). Their aim is to expand capacity to 10 million passengers annually by 2020 and then support continued growth beyond that.