Transport Minister Israel Katz said two air force bases were being considered with a view to opening a third international airport to help deal with a tourism boom and to disperse facilities in the event of bad weather or war, the Reuters news agency reported Wednesday.
Speaking at an aviation conference, Katz said repurposing either the Nevatim base in the south or Ramat David in the north for civilian as well as military use was necessary in the event of “certain security emergencies, as well as weather impact.”
He said he favored Nevatim because it already has some dual-use infrastructure, but added that Ramat David had advantages because the air force used it less.
However, he gave no timetable and said the issue was at the planning stage and being discussed with the Defense Ministry.
The head of the Civil Aviation Authority, Joel Feldschuh, told the conference that the third airport would serve low-cost package holiday makers.
“We will have three airports in Israel … a nationwide spread of airports,” he said.
The subject has been under discussion for years.
It gained urgency in 2014 when US and several European airlines briefly suspended flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport in central Israel after a projectile landed in a town nearby in late July during the conflict against Hamas in Gaza.
In September that year, Katz spoke about a new civilian terminal at Ramat David, to be run by a private company, with government authorities handling air traffic control.
He said the new airport would handle six million passengers each year.
The air force had nixed dual use at Nevatim and local residents objected to the idea of converting another base at Megiddo in northern Israel.
Katz told Wednesday’s conference that Ben Gurion was already dealing with traffic beyond its intended capacity and was having to put up temporary structures with service counters to accommodate the rise in travelers.
Ben Gurion is to undergo a major expansion at a cost of 1 billion shekels, or $280 million.
The 388,000-square-foot expansion of the terminal for overseas travelers will take place on four levels and include 88 new check-in counters.
A second international airport will open near the southern city of Eilat later this year but will only be able to handle a seventh of the volume of passengers that pass through the country’s main hub, Ben Gurion, Reuters said.
Ben Gurion is expecting a record number of individual arrivals and departures in 2019 — more than 25 million. There were some 20.8 million entries and exits in 2017.