Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Israeli Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz (3rdL) cut a red ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Ramon International Airport just outside the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Israel January 21, 2019. REUTERS/RONEN ZVULUN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Israeli Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz (3rdL) cut a red ribbon during the inauguration ceremony of the Ramon International Airport just outside the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Israel January 21, 2019. REUTERS/RONEN ZVULUN

 Israel inaugurated a new international airport on Monday in its desert south meant to boost tourism to the nearby Red Sea and serve as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the inauguration ceremony at the sleek, glassy terminal, arriving on the ceremonial first flight.

“Ramon Airport, this is Arkia 683, we’re very excited,” Netanyahu said from the cockpit on arrival in an exchange with the tower relayed over loudspeakers.

Initially, Ramon Airport will handle only domestic flights, operated by Israeli carriers Arkia and Israir.

A date has not yet been given for the start of international flights.

The new airport, named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, will in future host jumbo jets from around the globe.

Its website says that it will be able to initially handle up to 2-million passengers a year, but will be able to expand to 4.2-million by 2030. It says that it has a 3,600m runway and apron parking space for nine “large and wide-body aircraft”. The airport has freight facilities.

Ramon is about 18km from the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat and the adjacent Jordanian port of Aqaba.

Low-cost and charter airlines now flying to Ovda Airport, about 60km from Eilat, will move to Ramon, its website says. They include Ryanair, Wizz Air, easyJet, SAS, Finnair and Ural Airlines.

 

Antimissile fence

The new airport will also replace Eilat’s small municipal airfield, where for decades arriving aircraft have swooped past hotel towers.

Construction costs for the new airport have been put at 1.7-billion shekels ($455m).

Work began in 2013, and original specifications for the project were revised to allow for upgrades.

The Israel Airports Authority has said the plans for the Ramon project were revised in the light of lessons learned during the 2014 Gaza war.

“In an emergency, not only will Israel’s entire passenger air fleet be able to land and park there, but also additional aircraft,” the authority says.

After a rocket fired by Hamas militants in Gaza hit near the perimeter of Ben Gurion Airport in 2014, international carriers suspended flights.

Israeli media report that a 26m high, 4.5km long “smart” antimissile fence was installed to help protect Ramon, which is adjacent to the border with Jordan. The authority refused to comment on those reports.

Tourism brings in significant revenue for Israel, accounting for $5.8bn in 2017, the last full year for which figures are available.

Arrivals to the country of more than  8-million citizens hit a record 3.6-million in 2018, the Israeli tourism ministry said.

The US, Russia, France, Germany and Britain accounted for most of the visitors.

AFP