Close ties were created in the skies between France and Lebanon over a century ago, which have remained unbroken ever since.
The story began on 10 November 1913. At the airfield in Paris-Villacoublay, a "Nieuport" was preparing to take off for Cairo, where it arrived on 1 January 1914 after a little more than 7 weeks. On the way, pilot Marc Bonnier and his mechanic Bernier made 14 stops on the Beirut leg, 16 stops in total before reaching Cairo (Nancy, Karlsruhe, Wurzburg, Platting, Vienna, Budapest, Arad, Craiova, Bucharest, Varna, Constantinople, Eskisehir, Adana, Beirut, Jerusalem and Cairo).
In June 1928, the first scheduled flights from Marseille to Beirut were launched.
“The Noguès route”
Shortly afterwards, Maurice Noguès, a World War I hero known as the "Mermoz of the East", dreamt of setting up a scheduled air service to Indochina in order to compete with the ocean liners, which then took thirty days.
His dream became reality on 17 January 1931 with Air Orient (one of the founding airlines of Air France in 1933). Noguès took off from Marseille in a seaplane. He made two stops: the first in Tripoli (in northern Lebanon) to change planes and the second in Karachi before arriving in Saigon 12 days later, a record for the time. The first regular air service between France and the Far East was born.
The years went by and Air France's commercial routes multiplied. In April 1946, the company launched the Paris-Le Bourget/Teheran route by DC3 via Marseille - Tunis - Benghazi - Cairo - Beirut and Baghdad.
1 July 1950 marked a turning point in aviation history. With a Constellation, Air France flew direct from Paris to Khalde; the first time an aircraft covered this distance non-stop in 8 hours and 25 minutes. The following year (15 May 1951), Air France flew direct to Beirut in 6 hours and 43 minutes, saving a further 1 hour and 42 minutes flight time.
In 1953, Air France started operating faster Comet aircraft between Paris and Beirut and in 1954, opened an Air France ticket office in Freetown (Sierra Leone) to satisfy the demands of the large number of Lebanese customers based in Africa.
In 1957, Air Liban, an associate company of Air France, launched a weekly non-stop service between Beirut and Paris by DC-6. The inaugural flight was a great event, with personalities from the world of politics, journalism and travel agents celebrating in Paris.
Civil war broke out in Lebanon in April 1975. Air France tried to maintain a regular service, thanks in particular to the dedication of its local staff who worked long shifts and slept at the airport. But the situation worsened, forcing services to be suspended in 1982.
Air France was the first European airline to resume service to Beirut in October that same year. However, it suspended flights to Beirut once again in 1985, redistributing flights to Damascus and Larnaca. Six years later, in 1991, Air France resumed flights to and from the Lebanese capital. The cooperation agreement with Middle East Airlines (of which Air France was a minority shareholder for a long time), allowed the airline to operate up to 3 daily flights by the end of the 90s.
In September 2015, Air France landed in Beirut with its brand new La Première, Business, Premium Economy and Economy cabins on board the B777-300. Then in June 2018, Air France flew from Paris to Beirut for the first time by B787, further improving passenger comfort and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 20%.
These milestones in Lebanon's history are inseparable from the close ties Air France has built up with this small country in the East, and which is now celebrating the 70th anniversary of the first non-stop Paris-Beirut flight.