The AMS-TIP-AMS trip was booked on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and was pretty standard, although it was nice to fly an intercontinental sector in a 737-306 (I didn't even know the 737-300 could do distances such as AMS-TIP without a technical stop, but we didn't ditch into the Mediterrenean so I guess it's possible ).
Libya is a huge country (at least compared to The Netherlands, which is about 1/50th of Libya!), and almost all the travel we did in Libya was by bus. So I've seen my share of Libyan roads (the quality of the roads in Libya is very good).
Just one part of the trip inside Libya was by airplane. Beforehand, I wondered if it would be a Libyan Arab Airlines flight, or something else. It turned out to be the second option, "something else", in this case Buraq Air (UZ/BRQ). This is the first private airline in Libya (LN is government owned), or at least, that's what they say. One of Khadaffi's sons is owner of Buraq Air, so it's not really independent and private, I guess...
The flight was from Benghazi, in the east of the country, to Tripoli national airport (Mitiga, former US Wheelus Air Force Base). Tripoli International (TIP/HLLT) is a 30 minute drive from downtown Tripoli, whereas Mitiga is closer to the city. Point to point distance from Benghazi to Mitiga is some 660 kilometers (or 410 miles, for all you Americans ). If you travel overland, you have to drive around the Gulf of Sirte, which makes the total distance 1024 kilometers (more than 630 US miles).
Fuel is really cheap as chips in Libya (you can buy more than 10 liters of diesel for just one dinar, which equals about €0,60), and I was told the Buraq Air flight costs no more than 30 euros. So you might call Buraq Air Libya's own LCC
Photography at airports is strictly forbidden in Libya, and to make it even harder for those wanting to make photographs, the airport buildings have no ramp-facing windows. So unfortunately I didn't take any pictures.
See for instance this picture, where the windows are painted black:
Photo © Atle Espen Helgesen
OK, the actual trip report:
Date: April 29, 2004
Flight number: UZ 507
Itinerary: BEN (Benghazi, HLLB) - MJI (Tripoli Mitiga, HLLM)
Flight times: somewhere in the early evening
Benghazi's airport, located in the city (or village?) of Benina, has no impressive terminal to show off. The pax part is just a large warehouse-type building with hundreds of plastic chairs. We were told to take a seat, until we were called to check in. After a while, an announcement was made for flight UZ 507 to Tripoli. Our tour leader went to the check-in and obtained all boarding passes. We went in line for security. Security was comparable to security controls in "western" airports (X-ray with pretty up-to-date "hardware"), at least not less thourough than at AMS. I even saw that someone had to leave a pair of scissors behind. Random picks were made for more security checks, including hand searches of carry-on luggage. I was ordered to walk through without additional checks, though. There were two UZ flights leaving the airport, our flight to MJI and another UZ flight to some other destination. Where to? I haven't got a clue, there were no information signs.
Some more waiting, and an announcement was made that we'd soon be bussed to our aircraft. Two busses came to pick up the pax for Mitiga. We drove around the airport, where I only saw three or four small prop aircraft, and were dropped off at two UZ 727's. As I had never flown the 727 before, I was pretty excited to see those aircraft standing there! The bus stopped near the front of the airplane. We were ordered to walk around the aircraft to the stairs under the tail. This allowed me to have a good look at the plane. Registration was 5A-DMO, which makes it a 727-2F2/Adv. Previously operated by THY Turkish Airlines as TC-JBJ, and currently, as I'm writing this report, more than 30 years old!
Photo © Irfan CALISKAN
I walked to the left wing of the aircraft and took a closer look at this old beauty. It looked to be in pretty good shape, despite its age. I entered the plane through the rear stairs. Here's an identical situation on another 727:
Photo © Kevin Wachter
The friendly Turkish flight attendants told us to take our seats promptly, as we were already 10 minutes past the STD, and they didn't want the delay to increase. I sat down at a random seat (as my assigned seat was already taken), I think it was 4 or 5 rows from the stairs, and it was the D seat. I didn't see a single empty seat when the doors were closed.
Everything inside the aircraft told me this was an ex-THY aircraft: signs were in both English and Turkish, and the THY-logo was everywhere, including on the ashtrays! The seats weren't really comfortable, as they looked to be as old as the aircraft, and they were pretty worn down. After a short safety instruction we took off. During the flight, which was scheduled to take about 70 minutes, we were given water and a small cake. The crew consisted of four (at least, I've seen four people in UZ uniform), three of whom were male. The only female was a grumpy woman, who almost literally threw the cake on my tray table. The men however were very friendly and nice to talk to.
The clear weather allowed for a good view of the Gulf of Sirte. The airconditioning was blowing pretty hard, there seemed to be a constant draught. I don't know if this is normal in the 727, as it was my first (and to this day only) 727 flight.
Upon landing in Mitiga we had no less than two aborted landings, as there were other aircraft on the runway. As the flight took considerably more time than 70 minutes (flight time was close to two hours), everyone in the cabin applauded loudly when we finally landed. My palms were all sweaty, and I was happy to touch ground once again.
When we disembarked the plane it was dark outside, and in about two minutes we were in a bus heading for the city center (we didn't have checked luggage).
It was an experience to remember for me: a new airline, a new aircraft type, and two new airports for me. If I ever return to Libya, I'm uncertain if I would fly Buraq Air again.
The pros: friendly crew (except one), something to drink and to eat during the flight, decent seat pitch (however the seats themselves were worn down), and we arrived safely at our destination.
The cons: flying a 30 year old aircraft on a domestic sector in Africa isn't the safest form of air travel , and the flight took considerably longer than the flight schedule reported, which made me worry about the amount of fuel the aircraft had on board.
I hope you like my first trip report on airliners.net, and I appreciate your feedback!