National carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) is seeking to list 20-25 per cent of its shares on the Beirut Stock Exchange in an effort to seek new investors as part of its expansion plans.

‘The goal is to widen the base of [MEA’s] shareholding,’ says MEA chairman and director-general Mohamed el-Hout, adding that, in addition to launching an initial public offering (IPO), MEA might bring on board a strategic partner.

‘The first step now is to list 20-25 per cent of the [company’s shares] on the BSE sometime towards the end of this year if the market environment is opportune. The possibility of listing on other markets is still under consideration,’ El-Hout says.

By 2008, MEA plans to add to its existing fleet of three Airbus A330-200s and six A321-200s. ‘We shall require one additional wide-body aircraft. We are also considering some short or medium-haul [regional] planes. In the future, we believe we may require either the Airbus 350 or the Boeing 787. We are in talks with both manufacturers,’ says El-Hout.

‘We believe from the company’s previous experience that we should be conservative in our expansion. New destinations will only be considered based on a purely commercial basis. These destinations must be viable.’

In 1996/97, Banque du Liban (central bank) acquired 99 per cent of MEA’s capital. The national carrier has planned to seek foreign investment for some time since former prime minister Rafiq Hariri floated the idea of selling MEA in 1999 (MEED 10:10:03).