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Photo: Mizmor Productions
Netanyahu in the new Ramon airport
Photo: Mizmor Productions
Israel opens new airport to boost Eilat tourism
The Ramon airport near Eilat opens with great fanfare; Netanyahu says single-runway facility ‘will provide important strategic capabilities at normal times and during times of emergency.'
Israel opened a new international airport outside its Red Sea resort of Eilat on Monday, hoping to boost winter tourism from Europeans and provide an alternative to its main gateway in Tel Aviv during times of conflict. The airport is named for Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, and his son Asaf, who was killed in 2009 in a Air Force accident.  

 

 

Abutting the Jordanian border some 19km north of Eilat, Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport cost $500 million and will replace the city's cramped municipal airport as well as Ovda, an Israeli desert airbase that also accommodates civilian traffic.

 

Landing at Ramon airport (Photo: Itay Blumenthal)
Landing at Ramon airport (Photo: Itay Blumenthal)

 

The single-runway Ramon is designed for wide-body planes and an annual capacity of 2.5 million passengers.

 

"Planes will come here from the south, from the east and from the north. This is a huge change in Israel's accessibility and its international standing," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the airport's opening ceremony.

 

Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

Ramon is designed to take any planes re-routed from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv - a lesson of the 2014 Gaza war, when foreign carriers briefly halted flights there because of Palestinian rocket fire. Israel worries that Ben-Gurion could also be targeted by Lebanese Hezbollah rocketeers.

Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

The new airport "will provide us with further and important strategic capabilities at normal times and, as much as is needed, during times of emergency," Netanyahu said.

 

Ramon is 200 km from Gaza and 370 km from Lebanon. It is at a safe remove from Islamist insurgents in the Egyptian Sinai and has a security fence billed as a precaution against shoulder-fired missile attacks from Jordan.

 

Ilan Ramon (Photo: Reuters)
Ilan Ramon (Photo: Reuters)

 

Red Sea neighbors Jordan and Egypt may also benefit from transit tourists landing there, Israeli officials say.

 

"It (Ramon) is going to be a regional airport and if some of our tourists will go to Aqaba and Taba, that's great," said Chanan Moskowitz, head of Eilat-area airport operations, referring to the Jordan and Egyptian border terminals. "It means that the area is quiet."  

 

Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Ramon family (Photo: Sason Tiram)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Ramon family (Photo: Sason Tiram)

 

But Amman contends the Ramon Airport violates international standards regarding respect for airspace and sovereignty as it is situated less than a half-mile from the border and roughly eight miles (13 kilometers) from Jordan's Aqaba airport.

 

Jordan's complaint with international authorities may stem from concerns that the new airport will draw tourists to Israel and away from Jordan.

  

Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Ilan & Asaf Ramon Airport (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

 

Eilat has seen a big revival in tourism since 2015, when Israel offered airlines 60 euros ($70) per passenger brought on direct flights from abroad to Ovda. Taxes and fees were also scrapped for three years to lower fares.

 

That lured airlines such as Ryanair - which has a 50 percent market share to Eilat for its winter flights - and Wizzair, which is next at 18 percent. Lufthansa began nonstop flights to Eilat in October.

 

Ramon airport (Photo: Reuters) (Photo: Reuters)
Ramon airport (Photo: Reuters)

  

Moskowitz said foreign tourism to Eilat doubled over the last two years. Tourism from Russia, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, via Ovda airport, has been especially brisk.

 

Hotels, however, have not benefited as much as they had hoped, with tourists arriving on budget flights opting to rent rooms through cheaper services such as AirBnb. "More people are staying outside the hotels than in the hotels," said Shabtai Shai, head of the Eilat Hotels Association.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 


פרסום ראשון: 01.21.19, 19:03
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