Nava and her husband returned two weekends ago from a three-night trip to Barcelona. They aren’t wealthy, but it was their fifth trip of the year. They have travelled so frequently that they can’t recall how many overseas vacations they have taken in the last few years.
“If I find a ticket for Barcelona for $200, why shouldn’t I buy it?” she says.
The couple are typical of the new breed of travelling Israelis, who have taken advantage of the revolution in airfares since 2013 wrought by the Open Skies aviation agreement with the European Union. Open Skies brought down airfares by allowing new carriers and new destinations to service Israel.
This year alone, some 8.5 million outbound flights will be recorded out of Ben-Gurion International Airport, a 12% increase over 2017. All told, the airport will handle 23 million passengers this year and expects to handle 25 million in 2019.
A recent report by the Israel Airports Authority forecasts a 14% increase in the number of flights into and out of Israel this winter season to an average 1,198 a week. The number has jumped 57% since the 2014-15 season.
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Foreign carriers are enjoying the biggest growth, with low-cost carriers leading the way. EasyJet, for instance, will be flying 70 weekly flights, up from 53 this year. Israeli airlines, led by El Al, are increasing their flights by just 6% year on year. As a result, their share of total flights serving Ben-Gurion is due to drop to 27% this winter, down from 29% a year earlier and 33% two years ago.
The big question is when the new Ramon Airport servicing domestic and international flights to the southern resort town of Eilat will open. The IAA declines to commit itself to a date, although it is widely expected to be sometime during this winter season.
Right now, 5% of all international flights to and from Israel go through the existing Uvda Airport near Eilat.