An alternative airport in Israel – a slow motion process

Domestic and international flights bringing Israelis and tourists to the Red Sea resort of Eilat are currently forced to use the old airport in mid-town.

However, an old and small terminal is just one of the problems affecting the operation of the airport in its current location.

In parallel to the unsatisfactory service level is another severe problem – there is still no alternative to the country’s main international airport.

Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv is Israel’s only international airport that can handle all types of aircraft.

This is a perfect paradox – the need for an alternative airport is there, the resources are there, but because politicians have been involved along the way this plan has not been fulfilled so far.

There are signs that there is “light at the end of the runway”, but I wouldn’t open the Champagne just yet – even the best Champagne has a limited lifespan.

Until 2010 the Israeli air force (IAF) base in Uvda in southern Israel served as an alternate, but that changed when the Israeli civil aviation authority (CAA) declared it can no longer be used as such. This because of a narrow runway and the lack of navigation aids.

A civil terminal at the base is used from time to time by charter flights bringing European tourists to Eilat, which is some 40km to the south.

The IAF was not ready to allow the use of its Nevatim base – also in Southern Israel – as an alternative to Ben-Gurion

A few days ago Giora Romm – director general of the CAA – said the use of Uvda as an alternate airport is not approved, however, “it can be used if there is an early enough notice that can allow the needed preparations, but this is rare”.

Romm added that as long as a new international airport at Eilat has not been built, the alternates for Ben-Gurion will continue to be Larnaca in Cyprus and Amman in Jordan.

This will remain the norm until the new Eilat airport is operational, which is expected to be 2018 at the earliest.

“Paradox” is a mild word. The never-ending saga of a new Eilat airport is more a mix of stupidity and the way governments act.

So Israel will continue to be offered to the world of commercial aviation with no alternative airport.

And this in a country that is situated in one of the most unpredictable regions on Earth – and I’m not referring to sudden heavy fog.

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