Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport was jam packed with travelers last year, with traffic up 11% over 2015 – to 2.13 million passengers.
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But it wasn’t tourists coming to Israel, but Israelis flying abroad that was responsible for the growth, the Civil Aviation Authority said on Sunday.
“Seventy percent of all the traffic for the year at Ben-Gurion was Israeli travelers and only 30% was [foreign] tourists,” said Shmuel Zakai, the airport’s director general, saying the proportion of foreign tourists was the lowest it’s been for five years.
Tourist arrivals are only now showing signs of recovery after the blow they suffered during the 2014 Gaza war, when rocket attacks briefly closed the airport at the height of Israel’s summer tourist season. Arrivals rose 2% this year, though they remain down from 2013 levels.
“It’s a worrying figure for Israeli tourism, but it’s good news for the positive change that came from Open Skies and lower airfares for Israeli consumers,” said Zakai., referring to the 2013 pact Israel signed with the European Union opening up the airline market to more competition.
Turkey and its airlines have emerged as a major force in Ben-Gurion, according to the authority. Turkey accounted for the biggest destination for fliers going through Israel’s main international airport – 1.6 million travelers, although nearly all of them were using Istanbul to connect to third countries.
The United States was second with 1.45 million travelers, and Germany next with 1.2 million.
With 5.5 million passengers in 2016, El Al Airlines, Israel’s flagship carrier, was by far the biggest carrier in and out of Ben-Gurion, but Turkish Airlines was next with 932,000. The low-cost carrier EasyJet flew 719,000 and Aeroflot 704,000, which flies to Moscow and other cities, followed by Israel’s Arkia with 650,000 and Israir with 548,000.