10 million passengers and only one runway

Uvda Airport outside Eilat will no longer allow landing of flights diverted from Ben-Gurion.

airplane 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
airplane 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Following a decision by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), starting at the end of June the Uvda Airport outside Eilat will no longer be an alternative landing destination for international flights diverted from Ben-Gurion Airport, The Jerusalem Post learned on Thursday.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has criticized the move and asked the CAA to reconsider it.
With Ben-Gurion currently undergoing construction on one of its two operational runways, the decision to stop using Uvda means that the 10 million passengers that fly into Israel annually will only have a single runway on which to land, leaving no local alternative in case weather, security concerns, congestion or technical difficulties require flights to be diverted from Ben-Gurion. If for any reason planes cannot land in Ben-Gurion, flights will be diverted to alternative destinations in Jordan or Cyprus. For the airlines this means extra expenditures on fuel, which in turn may mean higher prices for passengers.
“The airport in Uvda currently functions as an alternative to Ben-Gurion in cases where weather, safety or security conditions don’t enable landing there,” said Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadiah.
”Since Uvda doesn’t employ 24-hour civil flight inspection services and can’t provide international flights with unscheduled flight services, the CAA’s director, Giora Rom, decided to examine substitutes for alternative airports.
Ovadiah said that the CAA is examining the use of airports in either Jordan or Cypress, or enabling the IAF base in Nevatim to receive civilian flights.
IATA sent a letter to Rom criticizing the CAA’s decision. In the letter, IATA director of Safety, Operations and Infrastructure, Ken Mclean, explained the necessity of having Uvda as an alternative airport, stating two reasons: “1. An alternate airport on Israeli territory will avoid lengthy and cumbersome diversion and immigration processes to allow the aircraft and passengers to arrive in Tel Aviv.
“2. Aircraft will need to carry additional fuel (550 kg) when an alternative airport other than Uvda is required regardless of whether or not a diversion is necessary, thereby blocking airlines to take up valuable payload.
”IATA strongly requests you reconsider your decision to withdraw Uvda airport as an option for airlines to nominate it as an alternative,” read the letter.
While El Al and the long distance foreign airlines – bodies that stand to be directly influenced by the CAA’s decision – have declined to respond, local tourism professionals have criticized the move on various accounts.
“I find it difficult to understand the lack of foresight by Israel’s aviation leadership,” said Joseph Fischer, executive vice president of CLAL Tourism Holdings. “All of the neighboring countries have more than one international airport. Jordan has two, Egypt has nearly 10, why is it that only Israel operates on a single runway? It doesn’t take much, a plane getting stuck on the runway or fog in Ben-Gurion and passengers on their way to Tel Aviv will find themselves in going through customs in Larnaka.
“It is obvious that the extra fuel the airlines will be required tocarry in reserve, so they can reach the distant airports, will bepassed on to the passengers in higher ticket prices. The decision to dothis now, as we enter the peak months of the summer, is beyondfrustrating,” said Fischer.
Transportation Ministry director-general Yaakov Ganot said that theministry was looking into the decision and raised the possibility ofusing the Nevatim Air Force base in the Negev as a possible alternativeairport.
It is unlikely that Nevatim will indeed be used as it would requirecoordination with the Air Force and remodeling the airport to receiveinternational passengers.