Ramon airport to serve as desert ‘parking lot’ for foreign airlines

The Israel Airports Authority has promised cheaper rates in comparison to Europe. Two companies are expected to start storing their aircraft next week.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The Israel Airports Authority has announced plans to temporarily convert the Ramon Airport near Eilat into an international airplane ‘parking lot’ for airlines, Globes reported Tuesday.

The world’s aviation industry has been hit hard by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic ,and one of the most pressing issues for airlines is figuring out where to park their fleets. Currently, an estimated 7,500 of the world’s 8,800 commercial planes are grounded.

Among the airliners grounded are at least 383 Boeing Max 737s, which have been banned from flying since March 2019, following two fatal accidents involving the American manufacturer’s aircraft.

Located 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the southern resort city of Eilat, Ramon Airport is currently operating only three daily flights, leaving 100 open aircraft parking spaces.

The Airports Authority approached several European airlines, offering them storage at prices significantly cheaper than standard European rates and the advantage of dry, desert weather, the report said. Touting an environment that is best for longterm aircraft storage, two unidentified companies expressed interest and are expected to begin storing their aircraft at the airport next week.

Ramon Airport is named for Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was killed in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, and his son Assaf. The younger Ramon followed in his father’s footsteps to become a fighter pilot, but was killed in a training accident in 2009.

On Monday, the authority reported that flight cancellations to and from Israel due to the pandemic resulted in a 98 percent drop in civil aviation activity and a loss of some $425 million in revenue to the Israeli aviation industry. Thousands of employees at Ben Gurion Airport, the country’s main international hub, have been placed on unpaid leave with hundreds of others expected to follow in the coming weeks.

Israel’s national El Al airline has halted all commercial flights through at least April 4, although the airline is still carrying out cargo flights and some rescue flights to return home Israelis stranded abroad.

Ryanair, Europe’s largest low-cost airline, recently announced that its entire fleet, which includes more than 450 aircraft, is grounded except for rescue flights. The planes are parked at various airports around Europe, but they are not totally inactive.

Ryanair regularly operates “ghost flights,” empty flights with no passengers that take brief “warm up” flights every four days. The flights last less than an hour, and depart and land at the same airport. According to the airline’s website, the goal of ghost flights is to ensure that planes remain in full operational mode and that a potential return to regular activity can happen as smoothly and quickly as possible.