The inaugural flight to Eilat’s yet-to-be opened llan and Assaf Ramon International Airport landed Monday, marking a new chapter in the Red Sea resort city’s plans to attract snowbirds to enjoy its 360 annual days of sunshine.Low-cost domestic carrier Arkia made the first scheduled landing, with Flight 883 touching down on the airport’s 3,600 meter-long runway. The first test flight landed back on September 5, 2017. Two years delayed, the facility is now slated to open in March 2019.Ramon Airport, located 18 km. north of Eilat in the Timna Valley, will replace two regional airports. The inner city J. Hozman Airport with its short runway is currently used by propeller planes flying within Israel, while commercial jets from Europe and Russia land at the IAF’s Ovda air base 60 km. north of the city.The airport is named in memory of the Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, and his son Assaf Ramon who died six years later when his F-16 fighter jet crashed. Passengers onboard Monday’s inaugural flight included Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Israel Airports Authority officials. They joined Ilan Ramon’s widow Rona and family in inaugurating the airport.“The goal is to strengthen the city of Eilat, and make Israelis prefer Eilat over other places abroad,” Katz said, referring to ever-growing number of citizens who prefer to holiday abroad. Last year, almost one in two vacationing Israelis left the country for a vacation.“I am convinced that many Israelis will prefer to fly to Eilat as an alternative to other places,” Katz added.Currently, European airlines including Ryanair, WizzAir, easyJet, Transavia, SAS, Finnair, Edelweiss and Ural land at Ovda during the winter season. The low-cost international and charter flights, as well as domestic traffic, will relocate to Ramon when it opens next year. The terminal building is set to handle two million passengers a year, with expansion allowing a capacity of 4.2 million passengers by 2030.While plans are underway to build a rail link to the city center, in the meantime shuttles will whisk passengers for the ten-minute ride to the hotel district.In an arrangement between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Transportation aimed at encouraging tourism, Israel will waive aviation fees at the Ramon Airport for three years. Currently Eilat is a VATfree zone.International travel to and from Israel has skyrocketed since the Jewish state and the European Union ratified the Open Skies agreement in June 2013, opening up competition between Israeli and European airlines.The Ramon Airport will allow Eilat to reclaim the area between downtown and the hotel district measuring “a quarter of the city,” Katz added.