A MEA A320 at Beirut airport
How resilient can an airline be in the face of adversity? Well, someone at Middle East Airlines (MEA), Lebanon's flag carrier, could possibly answer this question. The MEA of today is a modern airline serving a resurgent travel market (Beirut is one of the main tourist destinations in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean region) however during it's more than sixty years of existence MEA has had to fly through extreme turbulence...
The recent halt in traffic as a result of the volcanic ash cloud has put some European airlines in a difficult situation...but try keeping an airline operating with its main base intermitently closed for over 15 years! This is what happened during Lebanon's long civil war (1975-1990), when MEA survived by leasing aircraft and seconding staff to international companies. Once the war was over it quickly rebuilt itself, however the political situation has remained extremely unstable in that region and this has repeatedly affected its capacity to operate. As recently as 2006, war forced again MEA to move its operations abroad, this time to Damascus and Amman, until the situation was normalized.
Despite all these problems MEA has kept its expansions plans and building a young all-Airbus fleet: 4 Airbus A320, 6 Airbus A321 and 4 Airbus A330, serving destinations in Europe, the Middle East and West Africa, where there is an important Lebanese community.
One of the things that have caught my attention is that MEA operates its aircraft with a very low-density seating layout compared to European airlines and well below the capacity of these aircraft types. For example, its A320 has 24 seats in business class and 102 and only in economy, 126 in total (as a reference, BA's A320s have between 149 and 156 seats), the A321 features 31 business seats and 118 in economy, 149 in total! (to make the comparison, BMI, that competes with MEA on the London (LHR)-Beirut route has a 183-seat layout, 40 seats more than MEA) I have never flown MEA, but I guess that passengers enjoy quite a lot of space on-board!
A MEA A321 with the Lebanese mountains in the background