The airline industry  is expected to continue its growth in the Middle East but at a slower pace than previous years, British Airways Middle East Commercial Manager Paolo De Renzis told The Daily Star Wednesday.
“I see growth due to strong demand, but I don’t know if it will continue at the same pace,” Renzis said during an interview held in Beirut’s eastern suburbs hours before the touchdown of the first British Airways plane at Rafik Hariri international airport since 1992.
British Airways began running flights to Lebanon in 1987, but ended operations five years later.
It is scheduled to resume functioning after the acquisition of British Midland International last April by International Airlines Group, the parent of British Airways.
Britain’s flagship airline is in the process of integrating BMI in the Middle East region, plans which the company hopes will be complete by the end of December when all new products will have been introduced, Renzis said.
“There are a lot of BMI routes in our patch and Beirut is one of those,” Renzis added.
In line with the Hariri airport’s open sky policy, British Airways customers will have access to a network of more than 20 destinations across the U.S. and Canada through London Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5, Renzis said.
British Airways will run daily flights during the winter season and 10 flights per week during summer.
Among market segments seeing growth in capacity is business, leisure and student traffic, Renzis said.
Asked about regional competition from mainly subsidized Gulf carriers, Renzis said: “We are used to fierce competition back home and we are doing well given our high quality products.”
With the exception of Bahrain, where flights were halted during February 2011 before gradually recovering to normal, Renzis said that British Airways has been coping well with the unrest in the Arab world, where it has largely sustained normal business operations.
However, British Airways has not reinstated flights to Damascus, after they were halted by BMI last May.
The airline will be operating a newly refurbished mid-haul A321 on the Beirut route.
The aircraft offers flat beds for those traveling in business class.
Those in economy class will be provided with individual on-demand televisions – fitted to the backs of seats.
The aircraft refits, which began in June, will be completed by December of this year.
Over the next five years, British Airways will be investing more than 5 billion pounds ($8.04 billion) globally in new aircrafts and improvements to its products, Renzis said.
British Airways has already invested 100 million pounds on more than 75 percent of its fleet.