Lebanon is in under one of the deepest depressions in modern history after the World Bank. Hyperinflation has seen the Lebanese pound lose more than 90 per cent of its value in less than two years, and more than half of the people have sunk into poverty.
The capital Beirut is now the third most expensive city in the world, according to the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey.
At the heart of this economic meltdown, the country’s people and institutions are being forced to improvise new and unconventional ways to generate extra income. The fighting army began offering helicopter tours to tourists in an offer to boost morale and raise the necessary money for maintenance.
Both tourists and Lebanese citizens can sign up for 15-minute trips to the military site, seen as a way to see “Lebanon … from above”. Tours on the R44 Robinson “Raven” helicopters – usually reserved for student pilots in their first year of training – run by both Rayak and Amchit air bases, offering scenic views.
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 equipment, maintenance, and supplies budget.
Last month, Army Commander General Joseph Aoun warned that the economic crisis – partly caused by decades of government corruption and profligacy – would soon lead to the breakdown of all state institutions, including the army.
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.