By Ebi Kesiena
Amid economic meltdown facing Lebanon, the country’s military has started offering helicopter tours to tourists in a bid to boost morale and raise cash for maintenance.
According to the World Bank, Lebanon is in the midst of one of the deepest economic depressions in modern history.
The struggling army and institutions have been forced to improvise new and unconventional ways of generating extra income, as the hyperinflation has seen the Lebanese pound lose more than 90 percent of its value in less than two years and more than half of the population has sunk into poverty.
Also, the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey has named the capital Beirut, the third-most expensive city in the world.
From the military’s website, both tourists and Lebanese citizens can sign up for a 15-minute ride on the military’s Raven helicopters, usually reserved for student pilots in their first year of training, which departs from both Rayak and Amchit airbases, and offer scenic views.
Army Commander General, Joseph Aoun who decried the economic crisis in Lebanon, stated that it was partly caused by decades of government corruption and profligacy, and would soon lead to the breakdown of all state institutions, including the army.
‘‘It is particularly telling that the army has resorted to moonlighting as tour guides, given that the military has underpinned Lebanon’s stability since the end of the civil war in 1990. Despite significant US military support, the economic crisis has made it hard for the army to maintain its budget for equipment, maintenance and supplies,’’ it stated.
Recall that Lebanon was without a functioning government for 13 months, following the massive explosion at Beirut’s port in August 2020 which killed more than 200 people and destroyed large swathes of the city until a new cabinet was finally formed last week.
Foreign currency cash reserves have plummeted, causing fuel, electricity and medicine shortages.
In the meantime, the Lebanese military is aiming for about 1,000 hours of leisure flights this year. Each ride will cost $150, meaning the programme could net the military $300,000 by the end of the year.
However, a Lebanese soldier now earns just $90 a month, down from almost $850 before the crisis.