(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ben-Gurion Airport opened the fourth passenger wing in its main terminal on Thursday, a sign that Israeli air travel continues to expand amid a growing economy and calmer security.
The new extension in Terminal 3, Wing E, will accommodate up to 1,800 more passengers per hour, allowing for dozens of additional incoming and outgoing flights daily. That should reduce the load on the other congested wings and improve service provided for passengers.
Wing E was designed by Israeli star architect Moshe Safdie and associate architect Irit Kohavi.
“As part of a fruitful cooperation with the Israel Airports Authority, the fourth wing that my office was responsible for designing will enable the expansion of the capacity of those departing and entering Israel, thus further opening the field of tourism in Israel,” Safdie said. “I hope that work on a fifth wing will begin shortly.”
The new passenger wing includes telescopic glass pathways, eight plane exit gates, four bus exit gates, along with shops, restaurants, a VIP lounge and maintenance and cargo services. Some of the gates include double bridges, allowing for passengers to board and disembark from both the front and back of wide-bodied aircraft.
Ben-Gurion handles more than 90% of passengers entering and exiting the Jewish state, and travel through the congested airport continues to rise.
Almost 20.8 million passengers transited through Ben-Gurion in 2017, according to data from the Israel Aviation Authority, a sharp uptick from 17.9 million in 2016. The airport’s 2018 estimate is 23 million.
When Ben-Gurion sees more than 25 million passengers transit through the site, that will result in the airport being classified as among the world’s largest airports, Globes reported. That is projected to occur in 2019, barring a major security incident.
The rapid uptick in passengers takes place despite the negligible number of transit passengers. Flagship airliner El Al has not adopted a transit-friendly business model for security reasons, putting it at a competitive disadvantage to airliners like Turkish Airlines, which has turned its Istanbul hub into a major transit hub.
More than 100 airliners now service the airport, a handful of which have launched operations in the past year. The increase in competition comes after Israel signed the Open Skies agreement a decade ago, permitting many more European airliners to fly to Tel Aviv.
The airport is in the middle of a multi-year expansion plan, with recent renovations to Terminal 1, which services domestic locales, along with hosting low-cost airliners like Wizz Air, Easyjet and Ryanair.
The relatively strong local currency – with a dollar trading for NIS 3.53 at Thursday evening – has made shekel-priced flights cheaper for Israelis, along with low oil prices and more intense competition.
In 2017 a record-breaking 3.6 million tourists visited Israel, but it took three years since the Gaza war – Operation Protective Edge – for the tourism numbers to bounce back to their regular growth rate.
Safdie has helped design Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, Yad Vashem, the Yitzhak Rabin Center, and Los Angeles’s Skirball Cultural Center.