Normal operations resume at Beirut airport

By Tamer Abu Zeid in Beirut

A picture taken on April 11th, 2014 shows a Middle East Airlines commercial plane sitting on the tarmac of Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport. [Patrick Baz]

A picture taken on April 11th, 2014 shows a Middle East Airlines commercial plane sitting on the tarmac of Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport. [Patrick Baz]

Operations have returned to normal at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport following a Thursday night (September 6th) baggage system failure that led to flight delays and stranded passengers.

The system failure occurred between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., triggering a number of problems, airport officials said.

Employee attempts to manually issue boarding cards and receive baggage failed, causing unprecedented congestion at departure terminals and at Internal Security Forces security checks, as well as in the area outside the airport.

Some passengers reacted angrily to flight delays, especially those with connecting flights.

"We waited on the plane for more than half an hour," said a foreign tourist who gave her name only as Elena. "Our destination was Europe. After a long wait, we were told the flight was cancelled, but they did not explain why."

In a statement, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said a failure occurred with the system operated by SITA, which provides information technology and telecommunication services to the air transport industry.

The multinational information technology company operates more than 70% of the baggage systems around the world, including at Rafik Hariri International Airport, the statement said.

The failure led to "total disruption of check-ins and congestions at departure terminals", it said. "Directly after that, the units concerned fixed the failure at maximum speed, and the system resumed its normal operation at 4:30 a.m."

"Some companies managed to work manually, but this needed some time, causing a number of passengers to miss their flights," airport vice-chairman Youssef Tanus told Al-Mashareq, noting that the disruption occurred in the peak season.

Investigation into the incident

Judge George Attia, head of Central Inspection, summoned Rafik Hariri International Airport head Fadi al-Hassan, and Civil Aviation general manager Mohammed Shehab al-Din, to his office to question them about the situation.

Justice Minister Salim Jreissati said the public prosecution had taken actions to find out whether there had been any criminal acts behind the disruption.

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri convened a meeting to discuss the situation.

In attendance were finance minister Ali Hassan Khalil, minister of public works and transport Youssef Fenianos, interior minister Nohad al-Machnouk, Internal Security Forces director-general Maj. Gen. Imad Othman, and General Directorate of General Security director-general Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim.

Council for Development and Reconstruction president Nabil al-Jisr, and Middle East Airlines chairman Mohammed al-Hut also attended the meeting, where Fenianos explained the nature of crisis with SITA.

"I know everyone will ask about who is responsible for what has happened," he said. "We are waiting for the Internal Security Directorate which opened an investigation into the delays."

"Responsibilities will be determined, and all necessary actions on all levels will be taken," he said.

Beirut airport is crowded every day due to the large numbers of arriving and departing passengers, Fenianos said.

In August, 1.2 million passengers transited through the airport, which was expanded in the mid-1990s to accommodate some two million passengers a year.

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