Israel on Monday inaugurated its new international airport near the southernmost city of Eilat. The airport is part of efforts to boost tourism in the winter months to southern Israel where the weather is usually warm, and to provide an alternative to Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv in times of conflict.
Located in Timna, the Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport is named after Israel’s first astronaut, who was killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003, and his F-16 pilot son, who died in a training accident in 2009.
The airport is the first civilian international airport built in Israel since the founding of the state and was reportedly built for an estimated cost of NIS 1.7 billion ($455 million). Designed to handle 4.5 million passengers annually, the airport will effectively replace Eilat’s current small airport, and the desert airbase of Ovda, 60 kilometers north of the city, which also handles some civilian flights. Reuters reported.
The Ramon Airport is set to handle up to 2 million passengers per year upon opening, and later expand to accommodate 4.2 million passengers by the year 2030. All domestic flights from Tel Aviv and Haifa, previously routed to the two older airports, will begin operating from the Ramon Airport, as will low-cost and charter flights from Europe, including Ryanair, WizzAir, and easyJet.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the inauguration ceremony, accompanied by Minister of Transport and Intelligence Yisrael Katz, the new IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and a large entourage.
“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,” he was quoted as saying.
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,” he added.