Jordan protests ‘violations’ of new Israeli airport

Jordan says Ramon Airport violates ‘international standards regarding the respect for the sovereignty of the airspace and territories of other countries.’
Tuesday 22/01/2019
A view of Ramon Airport just outside the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Israel, on January 21. (Reuters)
A view of Ramon Airport just outside the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat, Israel, on January 21. (Reuters)

AMMAN – Israel inaugurated a new international airport at a southern port close to its border with Jordan on January 21, triggering protests from authorities in Amman over potential violations of aviation standards.

The airport is close to the country’s Red Sea resort city of Eilat and is meant to replace a smaller hub located in the city’s centre.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the airport will “reinforce the unprecedented blossoming in our international relations.”

“This is a huge change in Israel’s accessibility and international status,” Netanyahu said, pointing to the country’s “growing cooperation” with countries in Asia, Africa, the Arab world and the Muslim world.

Haitham Misto, head of Jordan’s Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission, however, said Jordan rejected Israel’s establishment of the airport in its current location.

It violates “international standards regarding the respect for the sovereignty of the airspace and territories of other countries,” Misto said.

“The Jordanian government informed the International Civil Aviation Authority its strong objection to such violation,” Misto added.

“The decision to operate the airport should not be a unilateral decision,” Jordan’s aviation commission said.

The airport was named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who was killed in the February 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. It is also named for his son Assaf Ramon, who died six years later in a training crash.

Ramon Airport will serve as an international airport for flights from Europe, transatlantic flights and domestic flights, supplementing the country’s main international airport, Ben Gurion.

Domestic flights will begin operating in February, and international flights will start at the end of March, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

The airport will serve as an alternative to Ben Gurion during emergency times, severe weather conditions and security unrest.

Ramon Airport, installed with the state-of-the-art technologies, cost some 1.7 billion NIS (some 460 million dollars) to construct, according to Israel’s Transportation Ministry.

The terminal can accommodate more than 2 million passengers per year, the ministry said.

The airport’s website says that it will be able to initially handle up to two million passengers annually, but will be able to expand to a capacity of 4.2 million by 2030.

It says that it has a 3,600-metre-long runway and apron parking space for nine “large and wide-body aircraft”.

It also has freight-handling facilities.

Low-cost and charter airlines currently flying to Ovda airport, about 60 kilometres from Eilat, will move to Ramon, the airport’s website says.

They include Ryanair, Wizz Air, EasyJet, SAS, Finnair and Ural Airlines.

It will also replace Eilat’s small municipal airfield, where for decades arriving aircraft have swooped past hotel towers.

Construction costs for the new airport have been put at 1.7 billion shekels ($455 million).

Work began in 2013 but original specifications for the project were revised to allow for upgrades.

The Israel Airports Authority (IAA) has said that the plans for the Ramon project were revised in light of lessons learned during the 2014 Gaza war.

“In an emergency, not only will Israel’s entire passenger air fleet be able to land and park there, but also additional aircraft,” the IAA says.

After a rocket fired by Hamas militants in Gaza hit near the perimeter of Ben Gurion airport in 2014, international carriers suspended flights.

Israeli media have said that a 26-metre high, 4.5-kilometre long “smart” anti-missile fence has been installed to help protect Ramon, which is adjacent to the border with Jordan.

The IAA refused to comment on those reports.

Tourism brings in significant revenue for Israel, accounting for $5.8 billion in 2017, and a similar figure was forecast for 2018, according to the tourism ministry.

In 2018, a record 4.12 million tourists visited Israel, the ministry said.

The United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain accounted for most of the visitors.

(AW and agencies)