Lavex 2006 Air Show - Tripoli, Libya
Trip Report by Steve Kinder
So on Monday December 6th 2006, boarding was finally completed on flight number 8U0913 from London’s Gatwick Airport to Tripoli. This in itself, was not without its problems, as five Nigerian passengers were arrested and removed from boarding, as their passports proved to be forged! The aircraft itself was TS-IND of the Tunisian carrier, NouvelAir. The Tunisian fleet is slowly being repainted in to the Libyan carrier’s colours. The flight takes approximately three hours and unlike most international carriers is alcohol free.
Arriving at Tripoli, entry into the country is remarkably simple, entry only delayed as a DHL wooden crate became jammed on the luggage belt, resulting in nearly an hour’s delay in retrieving the cases. Emerging through immigration, the man from Tripoli, is there waiting, smiling and somewhat relieved that entry has passed off without difficulty.
Hotels in Tripoli are somewhat scarce, as this week there is not only the air show on but a bi-lateral trade show. The Hotel Aldyafa proved to be very accommodating even if somewhat basic. Situated in the city centre, the comparison between the traffic chaos, there are no give ways or stop signs and the tranquillity of the early morning, totally unbelievable.
The LAVEX Airshow is being held at Tripoli Mitiga Airport, basically a military airfield was is being re-invented as an executive airport. Until recently it had been the base of operations for Bouraq Airlines, whose timekeeping from Mitiga had been exceptional, but the airlines has now been forced to move to Tripoli International Airport, where it no longer maintains such a proud record.
The show is scheduled top start at 10.00 hrs promptly. Entry on day 1 is strictly by invitation only and the show was opened by Colonel Gaddafi’s son, Al-Saadi Gaddafi. On the official opening ceremony was highlighted by an awesome display of Mig 21 and Mig 23 fighters Day 2, Tuesday, is open thee public. Somewhat charitably entry is free. Even more bizarre, is there is no car parking space as Mitiga Airport is located on the coast roads eat of Tripoli. Car parking is then not only free, but is on the beach. Imagine this at Farnborough.
The day commences with rain, a real dampener on the proceedings, but at this time of year, the weather is very unpredictable and changeable. Time this morning is limited due to a scheduled business meeting and on return circa 13.00 hours, the clouds have vanished to be replaced by glorious blue skies. By this time, it is now impossible to photograph any of the exhibits as the packed crowds swarm in and out and around each aircraft which is open for inspection. A very nice touch indeed.! Away from the show, there are several other interesting aircraft and it seems somewhat prudent to investigate and risk challenge, but very mush, nothing ventured, nothing gained! It soon becomes apparent that is a real open day, the public can venture just anywhere without question, even somewhat is obviously western. So the chance for close investigation of Libyan Air Ambulance Mil-8s, BAC-11, Libyan Arab Airlines Falcon, LAAF AN-72 and Yak-40 and Air Libya-VIP Yak-40 just too good too miss! No fences, no challenge, just smiles and waves, oh heaven.
The only slight observation on appearance was from some French mechanics working on the 2 Rafaels who obviously could identify a westerner! All the locals were in the cockpit but “Terminez, terminez” was the greeting The Bac-111 5A-DKO was delivered to Libavia from Bucharest Otopeni to Tripoli Mitiga on the 12 October 2006. Now quite a rarity, and sadly in white, one of few to survive the EU dictate of April 2002.
Further walking too place. By the VIP Terminal, there is a gathering of top brass with big flat hats in abundance. No worries, keep going. At the next building, the walk is halted as a request on destination is made in good English. There are 2 LAAF B707s away to the right, I am instructed to halt, temporarily as A VIP is arriving and the I may continue. The VIP-it’s Al-Saadi Gaddafi again on a LAA Falcon 70, but photography here at this moment is censored. Please continue, I am advised. Another few hundred yards and here are two parallel giant runways, and the 5 aircraft in question 2 x B707, 2 x727 of Bouraq Airlines and “that” infamous VIP green + white IL-62 5A-DKT , are visible. Crossing the first runway, the prudence of crossing a second questionable, because even though the airport is closed for the show, the prospect of a night in jail not really so appetising. Turning to retrace the steps and there unseen before is a long rusty gate behind which are 3 glorious Antonovs. This is the home of “003 Aircraft overhauling, Repair and Maintenance Centre 2006”. Swiftly circumnavigating the gate, it is obvious that no-one is about , it is a delight no only to discover 5A-BOG AN-24 of Sin Saad Airlines-very rare, only seen an AN-74 of the airline, 5 years ago but two quasi-military civil AN-26s-5A-DON/8304 and 5A-DOH/8315-what a fantastic trio and what a discovery. Away to the back is an abandoned Libyan Arab Airlines AN-24 but with time running out, there was no time to investigate ite identity.
Returning to the VIP terminal., the sane individual inquires whether I had reached my goal. I politely explained it was too sensitive a issue to cross two runways-the answer-“Sir you have permission”” However time is now at a premium,, and a rendezvous with the man from Tripoli is looming and punctuality is a virtue. One minute early, Nuri, the guide was anxious with furled brow . He explained that in case of arrest, he would be he that would be in trouble, not the author as it was he that engineered the visa into Libya. Time to leave , the airfield now fairly sparsely populated but no doubt day 3 of the Lavex Airshow 2006 would see the crowds return but by then the author would be a good 250 kms into the Sahara Desert but that is another story.
A truly fascinating experience, one of friendship and welcome, very strange on a quasi military airfield, where one would have expected very tough security and restrictions. No doubt the restrictions would be back in force when the show was over but in the interim, a great way of entertaining the general public. The feeling of achievement as TS-INI A320 NovelAir taxied on the return leg to Gatwick was more than satisfied and the memories of a great and very safe country and its amazing friendliness of its people, imprinted for ever!.
The author would like to thank Carol Bray of Afriqiyah Airways London, Captain Sabri. Saad Abdalla Chairman of Afriqiyah Airways Tripoli and Nur iLamin of Jannat Tours for all their assistance in working together to endorse this visit.
LAAF C-130 118
LAAF C-130 115 Armee De L’Air Libyenne titles
Mil 8 8334
Mil 14 LC1406
Mil 24 861
L-39 Albatross 3605
Mig 23 6474
Mig 21 704
Italian Navy Merlin MM81493
Rafale 302 demonstrator
Rafale 301 demonstrator
Italian Air Force MB339CD MM55091 code 61-163
D-CBCC B1900D RAYTHOEN AIRCARFT
F-GUFB KING AIR 200
F-GSMT Falcon 900
HB-FPS PC12 REDEX AIR
HB-JEV Gulf V
I-REEF KING AIR 200 Operated by Skybridge Air Ops S.R.L
I-FLYV Falcon 2000
I-CLMF Agusta 119
I-SCTA Agusta 109
5A-DKW F406 Biruni Remote Sensing center
5A-DRE AN32 Water bomber Libyan Government