Sunday 7 April could be the opening date for direct flights from London Luton Airport direct to Ramon International Airport Eilat, well in advance of the first night of Passover, this year Friday 19 April.
Last Monday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially opened the long-delayed airport, the first new global gateway to be built in the State since its birth in 1947.
Ramon is said to be the most advanced airport in the world in terms of technology. Just 15 miles from Eilat, it replaces Ovda, 40 miles to the north of the town, essentially a military base with a civilian terminal.
Abutting the Jordanian border, Ilan and Asaf Ramon Airport cost $500 million and will replace the tiny city centre municipal airport only suitable for short range aircraft. It is ultra-modern in its concept and features advanced security measures that remove, for the most part, the necessity for a body search. If you have no hold baggage you just walk through.
Named after an Israeli astronaut lost in the 2003 space shuttle disaster and his eldest son, who died in a 2009 air force accident, the single-runway Ramon is designed for wide-body planes and an annual capacity of 2.5 million passengers.
“Planes will come here from the south, from the east and from the north. This is a huge change in Israel’s accessibility and its international standing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening ceremony.
Ramon is designed to take any planes re-routed from Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv – a lesson of the 2014 Gaza war, when foreign carriers briefly halted flights there because of Palestinian rocket fire. Israel worries that Ben Gurion could also be targeted by Lebanese Hezbollah rockets.
The new airport “will provide us with further and important strategic capabilities – at normal times and, as much as is needed, during times of emergency,” Netanyahu noted.
Red Sea neighbours Jordan and Egypt may also benefit from transit tourists landing there, Israeli officials say.
“It (Ramon) is going to be a regional airport and if some of our tourists are going to Aqaba and Taba, that’s great,” Hanan Moskowitz, head of Eilat-area airport operations, told Reuters, referring to the Jordan and Egyptian crossing points. The airport authority in recent times took over responsibilities for regional border controls, very much speeding up the process.
“Our experience with dealing with quite large numbers of tourists made it easy to smooth out the process. It also works for the many Jordanians who are employed in Eilat and come across every day”.
Eilat has seen a big revival in tourism since 2015, when Israel offered airlines €60 per passenger brought on direct flights from abroad to Ovda. Taxes and fees were also scrapped for three years to lower fares.
Over the next ten years the city is expected to boom with the old airport area turned into a downtown entertainment centre with hotels and a marina. Who in North London can remember Hendon as an RAF airfield? The next generation will not believe that aircraft used to fly past the Eilat downtown hotels.
Initially Monarch took advantage of the financial incentive but with the collapse of that airline in late 2017, Wizz- Hungarian, another Luton tenant, was quick to pick up the pieces and introduce a twice weekly service. Ryanair will fly in from a number of European bases and is expected to gain 50% market share. EasyJet, the largest low-cost airline into Israel has not yet announced any initiative for Eilat. El Al currently does not have plans to service Ramon, domestic flights offered from Terminal One at Ben Gurion and Tel Aviv’s Sde Dove by Arkia and Israir.