Israel Needs Second Major Airport to Ensure Service in Wartime, Says Official

For the Civil Aviation Authority, the lesson of the brief suspension of most international flights last week was that the country needs a second main airport.

A plane flying over a neighborhood near Ben-Gurion Airport.
A plane flying over a neighborhood near Ben-Gurion Airport.Credit: Alon Ron

The decision by many foreign airlines last week to briefly suspend service to Ben-Gurion International Airport underlines the need for a second major international airport, an Israeli civil aviation official said on Sunday.

“The crisis that arose after flights were halted to Israel demonstrates how critical the aviation sector is the life of the country,” Kobi Zussman, the representative in Israel of the International Air Transport Association, told TheMarker. “We haven’t reached the stage of acting on the lesson, but it is clear that the issue of an alternative airport to Ben-Gurion — which we have been warning about for years — is more important today than ever before.”

Although there is a small international airport at Ovda, just north of Eilat in southern Israel, Zussman called for building another airport in the area. He suggested that the Israel Airports Authority consider offering carriers financial incentives to continue flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

After a home in Yehud, which is situated near Ben-Gurion, was hit last week by a rocket fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued an advisory and American carriers suspended flights for a few days. A number of European carriers also suspended flights to and from the airport, in accordance with a directive from the European Aviation Safety Agency. By the weekend, most airlines had resumed service but the brief halt of flights aroused deep concerns in Israel about its vulnerability.

In response to the suspensions, Giora Romm, the director of Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority, reached out to foreign carriers and civil aviation agencies, detailing the arrangements at Ben-Gurion for countering rocket attacks from Gaza. He explained that the rocket strike on the Yehud home was the result of a decision, by a relatively low-ranking military officer, not to employ the Iron Dome intercept system, and did not point to a failure of the anti-missile batteries themselves. The Israel Air Force has since changed its policy regarding interceptions near the airport.

In a memo to U.S. and British airlines and officials, Romm said the probability of a plane being hit by a rocket at the airport was one in 100 million, and the likelihood of being hit while in flight was even lower.

In response to the crisis in the tourism sector, Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said on Sunday he will be developing a plan over the next few weeks to reduce the cost of travel in Israel following a cabinet resolution on the subject last week. The plan is to be based on recommendations submitted in 2012 by a panel that concluded that the best way to lower prices is by increasing the supply of hotel rooms and reducing hotels’ fixed expenses for municipal taxes, security and compliance with Jewish dietary laws.

With reporting from Amir Oren.

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