With travel restrictions put in place by most national governments to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, commercial passenger air travel plummeted globally. This near-halt for the industry presumably made it exceptionally difficult for a recently-built airport to sell gate slots to airlines, especially for one intended to serve a resort destination. Now, Eilat-Ramon Airport in southern Israel is taking an unexpected measure to boost passenger traffic through its terminal.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Ramon Airport will allow Palestinian passengers to travel through after receiving government approval. The airport was built to serve Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, which relies on tourism to fuel its economy. The airport is named after Ilan and Assaf Ramon. Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut, and he lost his life on the Space Shuttle Columbia when it disintegrated during re-entry in 2003. His son Assaf Ramon died during an Israeli Air Force training accident in 2009.
The pilot program will begin with a charter flight from Eilat to Antalya, Turkey later this month. Ramon Airport’s Palestinian passengers will be required to meet in a centralized location in the West Bank and then board a charter bus. The passenger will have to go through a security check at an Israel checkpoint on the West Bank’s boundary before driving to Ramon Airport. The drive to Ramon Airport is quite lengthy with the southern edge of the West Bank being 138 miles away from Eilat-Ramon.
For Palestinians to board an international flight, they currently must travel by land through the heavily congested Israeli-controlled Allenby Crossing from West Bank to Jordan. Passengers usually have to plan on staying overnight in Amman, Jordan before their flight at Queen Alia International Airport. Flying out of Eilat-Ramon Airport would mean that travelers could leave the West Bank and fly on the same day.
Making travel for Palestinians easier in and out of the West Bank was one of several changes that the Biden Administration advocated for during the President’s trip to the region last month. Though, many Palestinians including the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister would like permission to operate an airport in the West Bank. While not being the ideal solution for either Palestinians or Israelis, the agreement does serve some of the interests on both sides.