Ramon Airport near Eilat started receiving its first international flights on Monday, with Ryanair the first carrier from abroad to serve the airport less than six weeks after it officially opened to domestic air traffic.
The Irish low-cost carrier inaugurated services from Poznan, Poland, and Prague, Czech Republic, and more will be added over the coming days, the Israel Airports Authority said.
The new air terminal, situated 19 kilometers (12 miles) north of Eilat, was inaugurated on January 21 and is seen as a key part of plans to boost tourism to the Red Sea resort city. The airport also serves as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport in times of conflict.
Ramon is the first civilian airport to be built from scratch in Israel since the foundation of the state in 1948. Other facilities have been modified from infrastructure mainly built during the period of the British Mandate.
The airport will replace Eilat’s current airport, which is used almost exclusively for domestic flights, that will close later this month, and a makeshift international airport at Ovda, 60 kilometers (some 37 miles) north of the city.
Ovda has received international traffic, mainly of holidaymakers from Europe. Its main function, however, is as a military airfield, and it is remote, nestled deep in the Arava desert, far from main transportation routes.
Several low-cost and charter airlines have been flying to Ovda and they will move to Ramon over the coming weeks. Main carriers such as Germany’s Lufthansa are also due to start serving the new airport.
Eilat is expecting a boost in tourism. Initially, Ramon will welcome about two million passengers a year with plans to expand to 4.5 million.
Currently, about 1.4 million Israelis visit Eilat annually and some 300,000 foreign tourists fly in, mainly from Europe.
The new single-runway airport is named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, who was killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003, and his son, Asaf, an Israel Air Force F-16 pilot, who died in a training accident in 2009.