Israel's International Airport Set to Service 25m Passengers in 2019

Wizz Air was the biggest contributor to growth in 2017 as Open Skies reform resulted in lowers fares and greater competition

Passengers at Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport wait to collect their luggage.
Nir Keidar

Six years after the Open Skies aviation reform brought a surge of air travel to Israel, Ben-Gurion international Airports looks set to pass the 25-million mark for passenger traffic in 2019, making it one of the world’s busiest facilities, the Israel Airports Authority said on Monday.

Passenger traffic through Ben-Gurion, Israel’s main international terminal, is expected to climb 15% this year to 23 million, with schedule flights and passenger loads for February alone showing a 23% increase over the same time last year, the IAA said.

Travel to and from Israel has grown sharply since Open Skies was signed with the European Union in 2013, allowing more airlines to fly Israeli routes to more destinations. That has brought more competition and lower fares in its wake.

The IAA said that in 2017, 25 new routes began flying in and out of Israel and 12 more carriers began flying to Israel, among the China’s Cathay Pacific, the low-cost carrier Ryanair and Cyprus’ Cobalt Air. Altogether, the new carriers increased passenger traffic at Ben-Gurion last year by 500,000.

Wizz Air, another low-cost carrier, showed the biggest passenger growth at Ben-Gurion last year in absolute terms, flying 300,000 more travelers, a 73% increase over 2016. Israir and Turkey’s Pegasus were the next best performers, with gains of 33% and 14%, respectively, for a total increase of 180,000 each. Polish airline Lot enjoyed a 157% increase in traffic, or about 120,000, and United Airlines a 25% increase, or about 110,000.

Top airlines at Ben-Gurion Airport, 2017

El Al Airlines, Israel’s flag carrier, was still the dominant airline at Ben-Gurion, with traffic of just under 5.7 million, but the number edged up just 2.2% in 2017, IAA figures showed.

Turkish Airlines was against the biggest overseas carrier serving Ben-Gurion last year, being the first foreign airline to fly more than one million passengers in a single year despite continued strained relations between Israel and Turkey. Most fliers using Turkish flights were using the airline’s Istanbul hub for connecting flights to the Far East, the United States and Europe.

Russia’s Aeroflot was the third-largest airline, showing a 15% increase in passengers to 805,000. EasyJet was next with about 800,000, an 11% rise. Israir emerged for the first time as the No. 2 Israeli airline in term of passenger count, flying 700,000 and pushing Arkia to third place with 661,000. Arkia saw just a 1.8% increase in fliers in 2017, IAA figures showed.

Uvda Airport, which serves the southern report town of Eilat, also saw a big rise in passenger traffic thanks to the subsidiaries that Israel’s tourism and transportation ministries offer airlines. In 2017, about 150,000 additional international passengers used the airport for a total of 209,000, and this winter season Uvda has served 76,250.

In 2018, the IAA predicted that Uvda would see traffic of about 400,000 international passengers. In December alone – the peak moth for Eilat – the passenger count jumped 130% to 51,883, the IAA said. Ten airlines are serving Uvda this season, with Ryanair accounting for 41% of all international traffic.

“Passenger traffic to Eilat has broken all records and we;’re seeing an unusual expansion in the number of airlines opening direct routes to the city,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “This is clear proof that the incentive programs we are operating at the Tourism Ministry is succeeding.”