National flag carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) signed an agreement with Brussels Airlines to serve passengers traveling to 12 African destinations via connections through Brussels. This deal is expected to facilitate the travel plans of the large Lebanese expatriate community in Africa. Airlines will offer flights to Freetown in Sierra Leone , Luanda in Angola, Cotonou in Benin, Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Douala in Cameroon, Kinhasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Banjul in The Gambia, Accra in Ghana, Conakry in Guinea, Monrovia in Liberia, Dakar in Senegal, and Lomé in Togo. Last June, MEA started three flights a week from Beirut to Brussels. The decision came after the Brussels-based Belgian-Lebanese Business Council submitted a report to MEA’s management last year showing demand for such direct flights between Lebanon and Belgium. The flights were intended to be seasonal and operational only during the summer months until September 15, similar to other direct flights to Nice, Copenhagen and Berlin.
But the increase in demand led to the extension of the Beirut-Brussels route for the coming winter season. MEA currently serves 30 destinations and is scheduled receive two new Airbus planes in 2010 and an additional one in 2011, expanding its fleet to 16 aircraft. The Central Bank owns a 99% stake in the carrier, which was planning to raise $250m through an initial public offering of 25% of its capital later this year. But the partial IPO was indefinitely postponed earlier this month.