The Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch opened an investigation Saturday into a technical error that caused chaos and delayed thousands of passengers at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport last week.
A judicial source said that the ISF’s investigation began at the request of State Prosecutor Samir Hammoud, who in turn was responding to a request Friday from caretaker Justice Minister Salim Jreissati to investigate the incident.
“There are conflicting reports about this incident that need to be investigated,” the source said.
“Some are saying that the technical error was done on purpose and others say that it was only a technical fault and that there is a responsibility that falls on the company.”
Chaos at the airport erupted just after 11 p.m. Thursday, when the system that manages departures and processes baggage drop stopped operating, delaying flights and leaving thousands of passengers stranded at the airport for hours.
Aviation technology developer SITA manages the system and said it worked quickly to fix the issue, which was resolved around 4:30 a.m. Friday morning.
But Lebanese officials were unsatisfied with the company’s explanation, with the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation expressing hesitation in a statement late Friday evening at the company’s repudiation of responsibility.
However, SITA called on Lebanese officials to wait for the results of the investigations before assigning blame.
The company said that as its employees were carrying out a maintenance inspection Thursday evening, an error had occurred with the telecommunications system, which enables passengers to fly out of Beirut.
“The company quickly worked on fixing the error, but the nature of the electronic fault and the inability to fix it prompted the company to move ... to a new, substitute and up-to-date system” that SITA had been planning to shift to as soon as the high season ended, the statement said. Moving to the new system resolved the issue – but not until 4:30 a.m.
A senior airport source told The Daily Star Saturday that airport chief Fadi al-Hasan and DGCA head Mohammad Chehabeddine met with Central Inspection Bureau head George Attieh, who had called them in for questioning.
The source said Hasan and Chehabeddine were set to explain to Attieh their position regarding the system failure.
Separately, in comments to the state-run National News Agency Saturday, Jreissati hit back at a decision to secure $88 million for the airport’s expansion.
The decision was made during an emergency meeting held at Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Downtown residence and attended by several officials involved in the airport project.
In public remarks made in August, MP Nazih Najm, who heads Parliament’s Public Works, Transportation, Energy and Water Committee, cited a study that found funds were urgently needed to revamp Beirut’s airport and called for $88 million to that end.
Since 2013, the annual number of passengers traveling through the airport has exceeded its capacity. In 2017, it hosted over 8.2 million passengers, according to the DGCA.
Speaking with reporters after the meeting, caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos said that Hariri told the officials he would not wait until the formation of a new government to disburse funds for the expansion.
Fenianos told reporters that Hariri has instructed the Council for Development and Reconstruction to put the final touches on the studies necessary to secure the $88 million.
Jreissati appeared to suggest that the money should not be disbursed until all administrative and judicial investigations into the airport are completed.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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