The so-called Arab Spring political upheaval across North Africa and parts of the Middle East has also been a significant disruptor of airline business in the region. The most seriously impacted were Libyan carriers Afriqiyah Airways and Libyan Airlines, which had aircraft destroyed or damaged by NATO air strikes against the former government of the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
By the time that Tripoli fell with surprising ease to rebel forces, NATO had flown more than 20,000 sorties during Operation Unified Protector. More than one third of these were strike missions, although weapons were not released on every sortie.
Recent briefings in Brussels and London on Operation Unified Protector reveal that attack helicopters provided by France and the UK are now making key contributions to NATO-led operations over Libya, which has been extended until the end of September.
Although rebel forces have gained hardly any ground in Libya, NATO officials are still optimistic that airpower alone will eventually force Col. Ghaddafi’s regime from power. To that end, air strikes have increasingly focused on Libya’s defense and security infrastructure, including vehicle, ammunition and missile depots; intelligence and secret police headquarters; the presidential complex in Tripoli; and other command and control sites.
The coalition of nations flying over Libya to protect civilians under UN Resolution 1973 is still flying some 150 sorties daily. Countries contributing aircraft are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Norway, Qatar, the Netherlands, Spain, the UAE, the UK and the U.S.
The air campaign over Libya has rekindled the debate about what exactly air power can accomplish without “boots on the ground.”
Libya plans to buy 14 Dassault Rafale fighters as part of an arms package agreed by French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi during a state visit to Paris this month. The package, which is worth $5.8 billion, also includes 35 Eurocopter helicopters and the return-to-service and upgrade of Libya’s Mirage F1 fighter fleet.
Effective last month, the FAA lifted its long-time prohibition against most flight operations to and from Libya, as well as overflight restrictions. These limitations have been in effect in varying degrees since 1986 as part of U.S. sanctions against Libya after it was blamed for the bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded 79 Americans. The U.S.