Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed a “historic day” for the State of Israel as the new Ramon Airport near Eilat was inaugurated on Monday.
The NIS 1.7 billion ($460 million) airport, named in memory of Ilan and Assaf Ramon and located 18 kilometers north of Eilat in the Timna Valley, will replace the Eilat and Ovda airports currently serving domestic and an increasing number of international flights.
“The Zionist vision is being realized here, from the foundations up to the rafters: planting a root into the earth of the homeland – and at the same time taking off to the peak of success, on the wings of great imagination,” said Netanyahu at the inauguration ceremony.
“Here, in Timna, we are fulfilling three key national goals: first, the advancement of national aviation; second, the blooming of the Negev and Arava; and third, adding layers to the building of our relations with the countries of the world.”
Ramon Airport, the first entirely civilian airport to open since Israel’s independence, is set to welcome up to two million passengers a year, with expansion works planned to more than double its capacity to 4.2 million passengers by 2030.
It will also serve as an option to re-route large aircraft from Ben-Gurion Airport in the case of rocket fire targeting Israel’s main international transport hub – as was threatened by Gaza terrorist groups in 2014 – or inclement weather.
Eilat has witnessed rapid growth in tourist demand and, accordingly, the number of flights to and from the city. As recently as 2015, there were only four weekly flights between Israel and Europe from Eilat. This winter alone, an estimated 165,000 tourists made the resort town their vacation destination, as they take advantage of some 57 weekly flights.
The new airport will enable larger planes and more flights to serve the South, as well as operating as a gateway for tourists seeking to travel to southern Jordan and the Sinai Peninsula.
“The territory which will now be freed up in Eilat will help the city grow and develop its tourism infrastructure to enable it to absorb the millions of tourists arriving from all over the world to the new airport,” said Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz.
“With the inauguration of the Ramon Airport, all the restrictions [of the other airports] have been removed,” he said.
Speakers also paid tribute to the late Rona Ramon, wife of Ilan and mother of Assaf, who died of cancer last month at the age of 54.
“One special woman should have been with us today: Rona Ramon,” said Katz. “Rona took part in a moving ceremony that took place at the airport a few months ago, where she said: ‘This is proof that dreams come true.’”
The three living children of the Ramon family, Tal, Yiftach and Noa, joined Netanyahu and Katz to cut the ribbon opening the new airport.
The first domestic flights are expected to touch down at the airport in February, with all domestic arrivals due to land at Ramon by mid-March, enabling the closure of Eilat Airport. Later this year, the airport will begin welcoming international arrivals, eventually leading to the closure of Ovda’s civilian flights terminal.
Seeking to incentivize airlines to travel to Eilat, the Tourism Ministry launched a range of subsidies for European airlines during the current winter season. The ministry reimburses airlines flying to Eilat €60 per passenger, with a 10% bonus for airlines flying more than 14 weekly flights, including at least two new flights this season.
Airlines flying to Ramon Airport will receive a three-year waiver from airport taxes. Major international airlines currently serving Ovda and likely to fly to Ramon include Ryanair, WizzAir, Transavia, Lufthansa and FinnAir.
The airport offers a 3.6 km. runway with a 45 meter width, as well as apron parking space for 16 general aviation aircraft, nine large and wide-body aircraft used primarily by European low-cost airlines and four turboprop aircraft used on domestic flights. There are also facilities for cargo and freight operations.
The sleek and futuristic terminal building awaiting passengers traveling through Ramon Airport was designed by the Mann-Shinar and Moshe Zur architect firms.
“This is the only airport in Israel and among few in the world that was built and planned without any prior existing infrastructure,” said Amir Mann, head of the Ramon Airport planning team.
“The planning and design of the project were greatly influenced by the futuristic aviation world and the natural surroundings of the desert. The airport is destined to become a magnet for tourists and will be of the utmost importance in the map of regional and international tourism for Israel.”
Due to the airport’s proximity to the Jordanian border, a 4.5 km., 26-meter-high smart fence was constructed to protect incoming and departing aircraft from a range of cross-border threats, including missile fire.
On Sunday, Jordanian authorities protested the opening of the airport, accusing Israel of deviating from international norms and standards, and stating that its location violates Jordan’s airspace sovereignty.
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