Lebanon is in the midst of one of the deepest depressions in modern history according to the World Bank. 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.
The capital Beirut is now the third-most expensive city in the world, according to the 2021 Mercer Cost of Living Survey.
Amid this economic meltdown, the country’s people and institutions have been forced to improvise new and unconventional ways of generating extra income. The struggling army has started offering helicopter tours to tourists in a bid to boost morale and raise must-needed cash for maintenance.
Both tourists and Lebanese citizens can sign up for 15-minute rides on the military’s website, billed 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 – depart from both Rayak and Amchit airbases, and offer 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 budget for equipment, maintenance and supplies.
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.
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.
A Lebanese soldier now earns just $90 a month – down from almost $850 before the crisis.