Rendering Courtesy of Israel Airports Authority
New international airport will be built in Israel's southern Arava Desert to better serve the growing Red Sea resort city of Eilat.

Israel's first commercial greenfield airport since its independence in 1948 is sited in the Arava Desert, 18 kilometers north of the resort of Eilat, to replace an existing facility that doesn't handle jumbo jets or international traffic.

The Israel Airports Authority will prequalify international construction teams late this month for the $450-million turnkey project in Timna. The actual tender is set to be issued early next year, says the agency. The airport is to be named after Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon, who died in the 2003 Columbia space-shuttle crash, and his son, Asaf, who was killed in an Israel Air Force training accident. After years of delay, the project got the final go-ahead in late 2011.

Amir Mann—head of the project's Tel Aviv-based design and project-management joint venture, Amir Mann-Ami Shinar Architects and Planners—says about 40 global firms have been involved in planning stages. The facility, set to open in early 2017, includes a 34,000-sq-meter terminal building for domestic and international flights, a 3,100-m-long runway and three parking aprons, one of which will accommodate wide-body jets. "The airport is being built to handle 1.8 to 2.5 million passengers annually [and] can easily be expanded in the future," says Mann. Up to $100 million more will be spent on related infrastructure projects, including a new central bus station and a rail link to Isarael's northern cities.

The Ramon airport will replace Eilat's small in-town airport and an Israel Air Force facility at Ovda, 65 km to the north, that now is used for larger planes. Israeli officials hope it will boost Eilat's ability to compete for tourists with other Middle East locations. Deputy Mayor Eli Lankri says Eilat is planning to build on the current 180-acre airport site as many as 6,000 new hotel rooms by 2020, a 50% increase. Sale of the property is expected to cover a large part of the new facility's cost.