Homecoming as Etihad launches Tripoli route

Etihad Airways has launched passenger flights to Tripoli as it hopes to tap into international demand to help Libya restore its economy.

The Libyan capital is Etihad's fifth city in North Africa and its 73rd destination worldwide. Silvia Razgova / The National
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TRIPOLI // Husband and wife Fouad Elgahwash and Eman Ali are as excited to have returned home to Libya as they are by their country's new future.

The couple completed an epic 26-hour journey from their adopted home in Sydney, Australia, to visit family in Zawiya, a Libyan coastal city and scene of some of the bloodiest fighting during the recent civil war. They were also among the 100-plus passengers aboard the inaugural Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to Tripoli yesterday.

The airline becomes the only UAE carrier to operate to the Libyan capital after Emirates Airline suspended its service last February because of the unrest.

"It feels good," Mrs Ali said. "We are going back to Libya for the first time in two years and a lot has happened since then."

Etihad's network, from Sydney to Abu Dhabi then onward to Tripoli, shaves several hours off the airline's previous travel time via Beirut.

The couple were seated among dozens of UAE business people on a delegation to scout for investment opportunities in Libya.

Etihad hopes to use its Abu Dhabi base as a conduit to handle demand from both Libya's far-flung diaspora and the rush by others to stake a claim in the country's rebuilding. It is starting three return flights a week.

"Flights between the UAE and Libya are important to grow business and further improve relations," said Souhaib Mishmish, the vice chairman of Emirates Concorde, a UAE property and hospitality firm, which is looking at expansion into Libya.

Relations between the two governments are already strong after the UAE was among the first to recognise the new regime in Libya. It also provided military and humanitarian support.

International airlines are slowly returning to Libya after stopping flights last year as the battle to oust the former leader, Muammar Qaddafi, developed into full-blown civil war. As a result, Libya's international traffic levels fell by more than 1 million passengers last year from the previous year.

Turkish Airlines became one of the first carriers to return when it restarted service between Istanbul and Tripoli on September 24. Turkey has also been quick to cement relations with the new political order emerging in Libya.

Emirates "indefinitely" suspended flights to Tripoli last February.

Etihad announced in October that it would start service to the capital as soon as the unrest eased. Tripoli becomes the airline's fifth city in North Africa and its 73rd worldwide.