A new gateway to Israel

Currently under construction in the Timna Valley in southern Israel, Eilat Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport is just months away from handling its first passengers.

The $446m airport is scheduled to open in April 2018 and will replace the existing bases of Eilat and Ovda, providing a new gateway for tourists seeking to access the Red Sea holiday destination.

Eilat is currently used for the domestic services from Tel Aviv and Haifa while Ovda, located about 60 km north of the city, is an existing military base that opens during the winter season only for international flights from Europe.

The opening of Ramon Airport comes at a time when international traffic to Eilat is rapidly accelerating. According to figures from OAG, two-way capacity at Ovda is set to top 340,000 during the 2017/18 winter season. Contrast that with the same season in 2014/15 when the figure was just 29,550.

Much of the growth has been fuelled by Israel’s Open Skies agreement with the EU which transformed air services almost overnight. The total number of scheduled international departure seats from Israel grew by 46 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 6.4 million to 9.4 million, and capacity is set to rise further to a record 11 million this year.

Over the past three years, the number of international carriers serving Ovda has doubled from four to eight, with SAS, Ukraine International, Wizz and Transavia each adding new routes. As a result, international services have increased from one scheduled destinations in winter 2014/15 to 25 departures for winter 2017/18.

The latest airline to expand in Eilat is low-cost carrier Wizz with four new routes to Ovda from Riga, Katowice, Prague and Bucharest. Ryanair will add ten destinations to Baden-Baden, Berlin, Bremen, Brussels, Frankfurt, Gdansk, Milan, Poznan, Warsaw and Weeze this winter meaning it will operate 14 routes.

The Ryanair growth story has been phenomenal, with the Irish airline holding 67 percent of the existing capacity in winter 2017/18. The carrier only made its debut in Israel in November 2015 with seasonal winter flights to Eilat from Budapest, Kaunas and Krakow.

“Following the Open Skies agreement, charters and low-cost airlines started bringing passengers from Russia, France, England, Scandinavia, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania,” says Hanan Moscovitz, managing director of Eilat and Ovda Airports for the Israel Airports Authority. “Today, for example, Ryanair has approximately six flights every day.”

Once operational, Ramon Airport will cater for both domestic and international passengers and be capable of handling up to 4.25 million passengers. The 34,000 sq m terminal will have 32 check in desks, self check-in areas, and parking spaces for more than 30 aircraft. The 3,600-meter long and 45-meter wide runway will also be able to serve all types of aircraft.

In order to further stimulate demand, Israel Airports Authority is offering a special package of incentives to airlines. All aeronautical charges will be waived for the first three years of operation, while the Ministry of Tourism and Eilat Hotel Association are offering an additional incentive of €45 and €15 per passenger respectively.

About Eilat Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport... It is named after the first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, and his son Assaf Ramon who died six years later when his F-16 fighter jet crashed over the Judea and Samaria Area.

Initial approval for the project was first given in 2003, but it was a further seven years before the Israeli government gave the final sign off. Work on the airport, located 19 km north of Eilat, started in 2013 and it will have an initial capacity to handle two million passengers a year once completed.

David Casey

David Casey is Editor in Chief of Routes, the global route development community's trusted source for news and information.