Be'er Sheva Lobbies for Civilian Airport at Israel Air Force's Nevatim Base

Israel Air Force is opposed to creating second international airport, arguing a facility for civilian aviation would harm the base's military capabilities.

Be'er Sheva is campaigning to turn the nearby Nevatim Air Force Base into Israel's second international airport. The mayor, Ruvik Danilovich, has commissioned a survey that lists the economic and social benefits that a big airport would provide the area.

But the Israel Air Force is opposed, arguing that a facility for civilian aviation would harm the base's military capabilities.

Alberto Denkberg

The need for a second international airport is brought up whenever Ben-Gurion Airport faces problems such as bad weather, flight-safety issues and last month's tainted-fuel troubles. Another factor is the need to build more runways at Ben-Gurion because of Israel's steadily growing air traffic. But such projects seriously damage the quality of life near the airport and present safety issues.

Danilovich has approached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the move to turn Nevatim into a second international airport. Nevatim's advantage is that its main runway is the longest in the Middle East, built during an expansion program completed in 2008 at the cost of NIS 1.5 billion. The air force has already moved its transport planes to Nevatim from Ben-Gurion.

According to the economic survey commissioned by the city, an international airport at Nevatim would create at least 3,000 new jobs and bring in direct and indirect income of about half a billion shekels annually. The move would also cut prices for passenger and freight flights.

And since Nevatim's runways are already up to international standards, only a terminal and luggage system would have to be built, at a cost of NIS 2.9 billion.

The Israel Defense Forces has yet to issue a statement on the matter, and the IDF Spokesman's Office says the army will deliver its opinion to the officials concerned and not to the media. Still, sources in the air force say the IAF would strongly oppose such a move.

They note that Nevatim already holds two combat squadrons, two squadrons of Hercules transport planes, a Boeing squadron and a Gulfstream V squadron used for intelligence flights.

The air force sources say future squadrons of F-35 fighter jets may also be based at Nevatim, and that it would be hard if not impossible to maintain military activity there at the current level if the base hosted a civilian international airport.