If Israel is a place where ancient and ultra-modern meet, then its newest airport is a particularly apt gateway to the country.
Set to be up and running in 2017, the Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport will serve the southern resort town of Eilat. But the state-of-the-art facility will be situated in the region not far from Timna – site of ancient copper mines.
The new airport will serve domestic and international flights and replace two other southern airports: Eilat, which is centrally located but can handle only relatively small aircraft; and Ovda, which can accommodate larger aircraft but is farther away. Ramon Airport will be situated a mere 19 kilometers north of Eilat.
Built at a cost of 1.7 billion shekels ($446 million dollars) on an area of 5,400 dunams (approximately 5.4 sq. kilometers), Ramon airport will be Israels second international airport. It is also the first domestic/international airport in Israel to be planned and constructed from top to bottom.
It is expected to generate a significant increase in tourism to southern Israel, and is projected to accommodate over 1.8 million passengers a year, of which 1.4 million will be domestic passengers and 400,000 foreign tourists.
In April 2013, Israels Minister of Transportation, Yisrael Katz, spearheaded the signing of an historic Open Skies agreement with the European Union that essentially eliminated the existing restrictions on routes between Israel and Europe. The result was dramatic. Israel became an attractive destination for European low-cost airlines, and, virtually overnight, new airlines started landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Ovda Airport, outside the southern resort town of Eilat, benefitted as well. The number of foreign tourists vacationing in Eilat had been declining steadily, reaching a nadir in 2014 as a result of Operation Protective Edge and the economic crisis in Russia. The percentage of foreign visitors to Eilat dropped from an average of 30% of the total to just 10%.
Following the Open Skies agreement, charters and low-cost airlines started bringing vacationers from such places as Russia, France, England, Scandinavia, Hungary, Poland and Lithuania, explains Hanan Moscovitz, Managing Director of Eilat and Ovda Airports for the Israel Airports Authority. Even RyanAir, Europes largest low-cost airline with a fleet of 300 planes, began flying to Ovda. Today, they have approximately six flights every day, with an average of 143 passengers per flight.
Although most of the European tourists come to Eilat mainly because of the inexpensive flights and to enjoy the sun and sea, many also take advantage of the other unique attractions in the region. We encourage them to go to Petra, Sinai and the Dead Sea, notes Moscovitz.The new airport will be even more appealing to foreign carriers and the number of flights is expected to increase significantly. In fact, the Israel Airports Authority is considering offering a special package of incentives to airlines that will fly to the new Ramon airport.
Ramon International Airport is named after Israels first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died when space shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry into Earth in 2003, and his son Assaf, a fighter pilot who was killed in a training accident six years later.
Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2017. We are on target to meet all our goals, says Yaakov Ganot, director general of the Israel Airports Authority. The project will be completed without deviating from our budget and we will abide by our obligations to the government and to Minister Katz to build an airport that will accommodate all types of aircraft from destinations all over the world.
Scaled on the model of Ben-Gurion International Airport, Ramon airport will contain separate sections for domestic and international passengers, with amenities such as duty-free shops, restaurants and other services. The terminal will occupy 30,000 square meters, including 32 check-in counters and eight gates for transport buses to and from the planes. In fact, the new terminal will be five times larger than the area of the Eilat and Ovda airports combined.
One of the main advantages of the new airport is that its infrastructure is designed to serve all types of aircraft, including wide-body airplanes such as the Boeing 747-400. The runway and taxiway are 3,600 meters long, and the runway is 45 meters wide, with an additional 7.5 meters on both sides of the shoulders. The tarmac will include 16 aprons for general aviation, six aprons for large and wide-body aircraft, and additional parking for turbo prop and smaller planes. Ramon International Airport will offer flexibility in slot options and attractive rates for airlines.
To ensure that the new airport will operate smoothly from the very beginning, a special transition team known as ORAT – Operational Readiness, Activation and Transition – is in place, making sure that the construction process is on schedule and on budget, and that all the systems run efficiently. ORATs staff consists of experts from Ben-Gurion airport and from the local Eilat and Ovda airports, who are working according to international models for launching new airports. Once Ramon opens officially next year, it will be managed by the Israel Airports Authority.
Advanced, state-of-the-art technologies are being implemented throughout the new airport in every field, including security, operations and management. The airport will have the most advanced baggage screening system available, HBS (Hold Baggage Screening), which sorts 100% of passenger baggage. Control and monitoring of ground traffic will be managed by the A-SMGCS (Advanced Surface Movement Guidance and Control Systems). Surveillance data will be integrated with Sensis Safety Logic conflict detection and alerting algorithms, as well as the Electronic Flight strip system (EFS) for flight plan information and other air traffic control data.
The airport is located just steps away from breathtaking natural wonders, including some on UNESCOs World Heritage List. Out of tremendous respect for the environment, the airport is a green project and great efforts are being made to preserve the local desert characteristics. Materials for construction are excavated locally, and instead of grass, the airport landscaping will use desert topsoil that was removed during the building process and replaced afterwards.
A solar energy center will produce electricity, and the air-conditioning system will be as eco-friendly and economical as possible, using water that is cooled at night when electricity is less expensive.
The new airport will be easily accessible by bus from all parts of the country, and there will be a large short- and long-term car park. A convenient and reasonably priced shuttle service will transport passengers from the airport to Eilat.
The new Ramon International Airport is ideally located just 19 kilometers from Eilat, among breathtaking scenery, dramatic history and astounding antiquities.
The seaside town of Eilat is Israels southern port and one of the most beautiful resorts in the country. Miles of beaches and desert landscapes, coral reefs, a lively nightlife, shopping malls, a large variety of tourist attractions and more than 12,000 rooms in over 50 hotels, make this a popular destination for domestic and international tourism. Eilats location in the southern Negev Desert enables easy connections to popular destinations in the region, such as Taba in Egypt, and Aqaba and the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Timna Park, 25 kilometers north of Eilat, is the site of the worlds first copper mine and combines stunning natural attractions with activities for the whole family.
The Dead Sea is also easily accessible from the new airport. At more than 400 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is the lowest and saltiest place on earth. Nestled among the mountains of the desert, the resort area offers a one-of-a-kind experience of beauty, tranquility and excitement. Visitors to the Dead Sea area usually also visit Masada, the ancient fortification which overlooks the Dead Sea. The tragic story of the siege of Masada, along with the incredible archaeological findings, is a tremendous draw for tourists from around the world.
The magnificent Ramon Crater, situated in Israels largest natural park, the Ramon Nature Reserve, is another must-see site not far from the new airport. In fact, the Negev Desert is full of treasures worth visiting all year round.
For more information about Ramon International Airport, visit www.iaa.gov.il
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