Chaos at Israeli Desert Airfield as EU Flights Rerouted

Some 31 commercial flights are expected to pass through Ovda Airport on Thursday, following security concerns at Ben-Gurion International Airport amid Gaza rocket fire.

Jack Pomas

Some 5,000 passengers on 31 flights are expected to pass through Ovda Airport on Thursday, as a portion of the commercial flights from Ben-Gurion International Airport were transferred there.

A military airfield in the Negev desert, Ovda also serves civilian flights whose passengers are bound for Eilat. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz had announced Wednesday that the airport would be opened as an alternative to Ben-Gurion, following security concerns that Gazan rocket fire might endanger planes.

The airfield was crowded and disruptions were felt as the military airport opened its tarmac to the civil flights. A senior travel administrator told Haaretz that the cafeteria had run out drinks and the atmosphere was reminiscent of a "third world" airport.

A Haaretz enquiry has found that 15 flights are scheduled to depart from Ovda on Thursday and 16 flights are scheduled to land there. Among the airlines carrying passengers there are Spain’s Air Europa, France’s Air Méditerranée and Italy’s Neos.

The transfer of some flights to Ovda means Ben-Gurion will service about 250 flights on Thursday, servicing about 41,000 passengers. This number is significantly lower than the usual 60,000 passengers that the country’s only international airport usually accommodates on Thursdays at the peak of its summer season.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s decision Thursday morning to lift the ban on American flights to and from Israel has paved the way for American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines and U.S. Air to renew operations.

Esther Castiel, who heads US Airways' operations in Tel Aviv, told The Marker that flights are expected to resume Friday.

The FAA lifted the ban less than 12 hours after it had decided to extend the regulation by 24 hours. The move came after the FAA received security assurances from Israel's Civil Aviation Authority.

The FAA had imposed the ban on Tuesday, following a rocket hit on a house in Yehud, not far from the airport perimeter.
 

Jacky Pomas