Cash-strapped Lebanese army offers $ 150 helicopter rides to feed ‘starving’ soldiers

The Lebanese military will start offering scenic helicopter flights over the crisis-ravaged country to raise much-needed additional funds as crippling inflation has left soldiers’ salaries worth just £ 60 per month .

Fifteen-minute flights in a Raven helicopter for up to three passengers will be offered starting July 1 and will cost $ 150 per trip, payable in cash.

The aim is “to encourage Lebanese tourism in a new way, in addition to supporting the air force,” a military source told AFP.

The Lebanese army is a key institution and a source of stability in Lebanon, but it is increasingly strapped for cash as the country slips deeper into recession.

The government was unable to agree on the reforms needed to deal with an economic crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst in the world since the mid-19th century.

Lebanon, which imports 80 percent of its goods, faces a severe shortage of foreign exchange.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value in recent years, reducing the purchasing power of wages. Officially pegged at 1,512 to the dollar, the lira is currently trading at over 17,000 on the streets in Lebanon.

A soldier’s monthly salary of £ 1.2million is now worth around $ 80 in dollars, or £ 60.

The military stopped serving meat to troops last year due to rising food prices. Joseph Aoun, the army chief, recently warned that the soldiers “were suffering and hungry” like the rest of the population.

France hosted an international conference earlier this month to solicit in-kind donations for the Lebanese military, including food, medical supplies, spare parts and fuel. Twenty countries have pledged to provide emergency aid to support the ailing institution.

The Lebanese army is a rare public body that is relatively respected in the country and seen as a crucial bulwark against a repeat of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990.

The World Bank recently warned that Lebanon’s contraction in GDP of around 40 percent in real terms was on a scale normally associated with countries at war.

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