For the earlier parts of this blog series see:
The year 1973 was a sign of the troubled times ahead for both Lebanon and MEA. Fighting between the PLO and the Lebanese military closed Beirut airport for 5 days but MEA was able to move its entire base of operations, including staff, to Cyprus. Then in October the Arab-Israeli War launched the entire region into chaos as the Arab nations undertook a surprise invasion of Israel. Lebanon was such a mess by this point that it fortunately could not become embroiled in such a conflict, but both these events highlighted how precarious MEA's position was. Rather than give out dividends the airline built up its stock of foreign currency to assist in future emergencies.
Despite this uncertainty MEA was profitable again in 1974 and ordered a trio of 747-200s. The Boeing 720 fleet was expanded to 16 aircraft with the addition of a trio of ex-Western Airlines Boeing 720-047Bs. Unfortunately this recovery was not to last as the simmering sectarian tensions ignited into a full scale civil war. Christian militias fought the PLO, Druze and Muslim militias and Beirut became a warzone. Traffic to Lebanon collapsed though initially at least Beirut Airport was treated as neautral ground. Over 1,500 MEA employees began sleeping at the airport.
1976 started poorly for MEA when one of its Boeing 720s, OD-AFT, was blown up in mid-air by a bomb en-route to Muscat. This was just the beginning as on June 27, 1976 one of the ex-Western 720s, OD-AGE, was caught on the ground at Beirut after deplaning its passengers and destroyed by rockets and cannon fire killing two crew. The airport was no longer neutral ground and MEA had to move its entire operation to stay in business.
Paris Orly became the airline's temporary home, with operations reduced to charters and contract flying. MEA wasn't finally able to fully return to Beirut until November 1976 after a closure of 168 days. Despite the ongoing troubles the lost 720s were replaced with a further pair of ex-Western Airlines aircraft arriving in 1977/78.
Sheik Najib who had carried the airline through since 1945 resigned in December 1977 for'personal reasons'. He left behind him a resolute airline able to face any challenge and there were plenty more in the future with regular hijackings in the late 1970s just the start.
Optimistically in October 1980 MEA management chose the A310 over the 767 as the airline's new equipment and ordered 5. The conflict was however heating up again and instead of the A310s all MEA could acquire were 2 ex-Western Airlines Boeing 707-347Cs. Losses mounted and then in 1982 catastrophe struck.
The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and resulting siege of Beirut had a devastating impact. Beirut airport was closed for 115 days and 7 of MEA's Boeing 720s were destroyed by Israeli shelling. American Airlines came to the rescue again and a quartet of Boeing 707-323Cs joined the fleet. The 747s also returned from lease helping to restore the scheduled network once again.
Peace still did not arrive though and in 1984 Beirut airport was closed again, this time for 5 months. Losses mounted and US sanctions against Lebanon forced the end of the New York service and the lease out of the 747s once again. Another pair of 720s was destroyed in 1985 and one of the 707s in 1987. The airline spent much of the 1980s operating from secondary bases as it had before in the 70s. It wasn't until September 1989 that a working ceasefire was established and the civil war came to an end. Somehow throughout this period MEA had remained in operation with its vintage fleet of war weary 707s and 720s.
The end of hostilities naturally led to a resurgence for MEA and finally the replacement of its Boeings with Airbuses, however the spirit of the airline and Sheikh Najib had truly been ably illustrated by the trusty Boeing jets. At least one of the Boeing 720s remained in active service into 1995 whilst 707s continued to serve into 1997.
2001. Middle East Airlines. A Struggle for Survival. Airliners no. 71
Davies, R.E.G. Airlines of the Jet Age: A History.
MEA Fleet. RZjets.net
2/4/2019 02:40:09 am
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: