Israel has officially inaugurated a new international airport on Monday near the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, a few kilometres from the Jordanian border.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the inauguration ceremony at the sleek, glassy terminal, arriving on the ceremonial first flight.
“Ramon airport, this is Arkia 683, we’re very excited,” Netanyahu said from the cockpit on arrival in an exchange with the tower relayed over loudspeakers.
The new airport is named after Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut who died in the crash of the space shuttle Columbia. Initially, it will handle only domestic flights, operated by Israeli carriers Arkia and Israir.
In the future, the airport plans to host jumbo jets from around the globe, and will also serve as an emergency alternative to Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport.
A date has not yet been given for the start of international flights.
“It (Ramon) is going to be a regional airport and if some of our tourists are going to Aqaba and Taba, that’s great,” Chanan Moscowitz, head of Eilat-area airport operations, told Reuters, referring to the Jordan and Egypt border crossings.
“It means that the area is quiet.”
Jordan’s state-run al-Mamlaka television reports that officials in Amman said the location of the Israeli airport violates the kingdom’s air sovereignty.
Al-Mamlaka television said Jordanian authorities lodged a complaint with international bodies over the Israeli airport, without giving further details.
There was no official comment from the Jordanian authorities on the report.
Ramon is about 18 kilometres from Eilat and the adjacent Jordanian port of Aqaba.
The airport’s website says that it will be able to initially handle up to two million passengers annually, but will expand to a capacity of 4.2 million by 2030. It will also replace Eilat’s small municipal airfield, where for decades arriving aircraft have swooped past hotel towers.
It says the new airport has a 3,600-metre-long runway and apron parking space for nine “large and wide-body aircraft”.
Construction costs have been about 1.7 billion shekels ($455m).
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 updated 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 in Gaza hit close to the perimeter of Ben Gurion airport in 2014, international carriers suspended flights, in some cases for 24 hours.
Israeli media have said that a 26-metre-high, 4.5km-long “smart” anti-missile fence has been installed to help protect Ramon, which is adjacent to the border with Jordan.
The IAA did not comment on those reports.