First flight lands at new Eilat airport

THE inaugural flight to Eilat's yet-to-be opened llan and Assaf Ramon International Airport landed on Monday, marking a new chapter in the Red Sea resort's plans to attract snowbirds to enjoy its 360 annual days of sunshine.

Low-cost domestic carrier Arkia made the first scheduled landing. Two years delayed, the facility is now due to open in March 2019.

Ramon Airport - 18 kilometres north of Eilat in the Timna Valley - will replace two regional airports. The inner city

J Hozman Airport, with its short runway, is currently used by propeller planes flying within Israel, while commercial jets from Europe land at Ovda, 60 kilometres north of the city.

The new airport is named in memory of Israel's first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who perished in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster, and his son Assaf Ramon, who died six years later when his F-16 fighter jet crashed.

Passengers on Monday's flight included Transportation Minister Israel Katz. He joined Ilan Ramon's widow Rona and family in inaugurating the airport.

"The goal is to strengthen the city of Eilat, and make Israelis prefer Eilat over other places abroad," Katz said.

"I am convinced that many Israelis will prefer to fly to Eilat as an alternative to other places."

He was referring to ever-growing number of citizens who prefer to holiday abroad. Last year, almost one in two vacationing Israelis left the country for a holiday.

The new terminal building is set to handle two million passengers a year, with expansion allowing a capacity of 4.2 million passengers by 2030. Plans are underway to build a rail link to the city centre. In meantime, shuttles will whisk passengers for the 10-minute ride to the hotel district.

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