A "historic day" was how Air Force commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan described Monday's celebratory flight of the IDF's transport and refueling aircraft from their home in Lod for the past 40 years to the newest and largest air force base in the Middle East in the central Negev. All of the IAF's Hercules transport planes, Boeing 707 refueling aircraft and AWACS took off in the afternoon from the Lod Air Force Base next to Ben-Gurion International Airport for a 45-minute flight to the IAF's now largest base located in Nevatim just east of Beersheba. Veteran pilots who served in the various squadrons in Lod over the past 40 years came to participate in the celebration, which also signified the beginning of the Air Force's move to the Negev. The project, which included the expansion of Nevatim and the construction of the largest runway in the Middle East, cost an estimated NIS 1.6 billion. While some 150 families of pilots and servicemen have already expressed willingness to move to the Negev, many families are refusing to do so. One senior officer from Lod even passed up a major promotion by refusing to move to Nevatim. Nevatim will become the first IAF base to house fighter jets and transport aircraft. According to a top IAF officer, the deployment of both kinds of aircraft at the base will require complex planning, but will ultimately improve the air force's operational capabilities. "This assortment is an important component of the IAF," Nehushtan told reporters moments before boarding one of the planes headed to Nevatim. "We are preparing for many more operations involving [the IAF's] long arm." In its 40 years, the Lod base has seen some of Israel's most historic missions, including sending its Hercules aircraft to Entebbe, Uganda in 1976 to rescue a group of Air France hostages. The fleet of planes later participated in Operation Solomon - the airlifting of Ethiopian Jews to Israel - as well as countless humanitarian missions to dozens of countries across the globe. "The move to the Negev has many components. On an operational level it is important and provides the transport fleet with better infrastructure, deployment in proximity of training spaces as well as operational flexibility," Nehushtan said. The decision to move the base to the south was initially made in 2002 as part of the IAF's multi-year plan to help settle the Negev. Other military branches are meant to follow, including Military Intelligence and C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence)." One of the reasons the base in Lod was chosen for evacuation was due to its high real estate value as well as the complications the air force was encountering in the base's immediate airspace which it shared with passenger planes landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak broke ground Monday at the Negev Junction where work will begin to build the IDF's new training school compound, called "Ir Habahdim." The location chosen for the new base has been controversial due to its close proximity to the Ramat Hovav industrial zone. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense and Green Course warned Monday that only after the environmental assessment report on the effects of the Ramat Hovav Industrial Park was completed would the IDF know whether the current location of the training city was appropriate. Since the survey had only just gotten underway, the bulk of the work still lays ahead, they said.