Israel Opens Airport in Negev as Alternative to Ben-Gurion

Ovda, a military airfield, has opened after the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency temporarily canceled all flights to Israel due to a Hamas rocket attack on Tuesday.

David Bachar

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced on Wednesday that Israel would be opening the Ovda Airport as an alternative to Ben-Gurion Airport. In practical terms, this means that foreign airlines that wish to land there instead of at Ben-Gurion Airport will be able to do so. No airline that operates at Ben-Gurion Airport has given its approval or agreement to move its flights to Ovda Airport as yet.

A military airfield, Ovda Airport also serves civilian flights whose passengers are bound for Eilat. Although the airfield is open, if it is to be used for civilian purposes, more civilian flight controllers need to be added to the control tower, as well as emergency firefighting and rescue crews, which are required for civilian airports. These crews are usually brought in from Eilat in accordance with ongoing need.

Ovda Airport’s ability to take in civilian flights is limited, and it is usually not prepared for landings of wide-body aircraft. The new airport in Timna, which is to be opened in 2016, will replace both Ovda Airport and the airport in Eilat.
Starting today, Minister Katz will increase the staff at the airport on an ongoing basis for however long the airport should require Airports Authority personnel, and also increase the number of firefighting and rescue crews there.

According to the plan, passengers who land at Ovda will be taken to the center of the country by bus, though this matter has not been settled yet.

The idea of opening Ovda Airport as an alternative to Ben-Gurion Airport was raised about two weeks ago by the CEOs of the three Israeli airlines — El Al, Israir and Arkia — in a meeting with Uzi Itzhaki, the director-general of the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem. The proposal was turned down on the grounds that Ben-Gurion Airport was prepared, in terms of security, for continued regular operation and that it could maintain its operation in case of an emergency.

Minister Katz also revealed that 4,000 Turkish passengers who were supposed to arrive in Israel and are stuck in Istanbul had refused to fly to Ovda Airport because they did not want to enter Israeli airspace.

Some foreign airlines have not canceled their flights to and from Israel despite the warnings from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which on Tuesday night joined the FAA’s warning and canceled all flights to and from Europe for 36 hours, in comparison with the 24-hour banning of flights to and from Israel by the Americans.

Among the European airlines that continue to fly to and from Israel are British Airways to London, Azerbaijan Airlines to Baku, Ukraine International Airlines to Kiev, Russia Airlines to St. Petersburg, Yakutia Airlines to Krasnodar, Bluebird Airways to Kos and Siberia Airlines to Moscow.