However, company officials acknowledge that the carrier’s future expansion depends on Lebanon enjoying a sustained period of political stability and on the level of fuel prices over the next two years.

Speaking to MEED at the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Assocation (IATA) in Istanbul, Mohamad El-Hout, chairman and director general of MEA, says the airline hopes to drive up passenger numbers across its network, after years of political turmoil in Lebanon that have hindered growth.

It is hoped that the election of Michel Suleiman as the country’s president, ending a year-long political deadlock between the government and opposition, will bring the stability required for the airline to expand.

MEA’s load factor – an industry standard measure of the proportion of seats sold on each flight – averages 60 per cent, far below many of its competitors in the region. El-Hout says that because the airline has so much spare capacity, increasing passenger numbers will help mitigate rising fuel costs, which have tripled in the past five years.

“Now we are going to have political stability in Lebanon, so without increasing our costs we can increase the number of passengers,” says El-Hout.

“The airline has made profits in the last three years, despite the assassination of [former prime minister] Rafiq Hariri in 2005, the Israeli invasion in 2006, and political instability last year.

“If we have stability, we are thinking of Moscow in 2010, but we also have to solve the problem of visas between the two countries.”