Located in Akkar in North Lebanon is the forgotten Kleiat airport (also spelled Qlayaat), formally known as the René Mouawad Air Base.
It is around 7 km from the northern Lebanese-Syrian border and 26 km from Tripoli. Reaching it from the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport by driving would take around 3 hours.
At one point, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines flew between Beirut and the northern airport serving as a domestic airport for North Lebanon. Today, however, it is under the control of the Lebanese Air Force.
The small airport was established in 1934 by the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), which used it for its company planes to carry its employees between Lebanon and Arab countries.
In 1966, the airport was taken over by the Lebanese Army that began expanding and developing its technological capabilities, making it one of the most modernized air bases in the region.
The air force was supplied with Mirage fighter aircraft from France. Pilots and technicians were given the opportunity to take courses related to the planes. All the while, flights were active to and from the airport.
However, like many institutions that were developing in Lebanon, the airport’s activity was hindered and slowed down by the Lebanese Civil War.
Following Taif Agreement in 1989, the Lebanese Parliament met at the airport where René Mouawad was elected as the president of Lebanon. Mere 17 days later, he was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut. The Kleiat airport was renamed in his honor.
Reopening the Kleiat airport was long spoken about with the northern people hoping to have an airport that will spare them a long ride to Beirut Airport for their travels out of the country.
Reopening it could provide new job opportunities and encourage the north to flourish and thrive economically.
That would result in reduced traffic on the highway from people commuting to their jobs in Beirut, as opportunities would open up in the vicinity of the airport.
According to the former Civil Aviation Authority director, Dr. Hamdi Chaouk, the airport can create around 5,000 jobs, which would be a significant economic boost for the north in particular and the country in general.
It would even promote more tourism to North Lebanon, which had long been seen as a neglected area, although it holds a lot to see.
In the past decade, there have been rumors about plans to rebuild it and reopen it to the public, a dream to add to the list of the New Lebanon the people are hoping for.