Israir Airlines and Tourism Ltd. and Arkia Airlines Ltd. announced a new route from Sde Dov to Cyprus a week ago, thereby hinting that they do not believe that the airport will be closed to civilian activity next year. Hoteliers in Eilat are concerned about the Tel Aviv-Eilat air route - currently the most popular air route to the town. A plan involving continued activity at Sde Dov on a reduced scale, as proposed by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, is currently under discussion, but pressure for the construction of thousands of housing units on the airport site is liable to tip the balance against this plan, which would limit the potential number of housing units.
Meanwhile, the Israel Hotel Association is joining the struggle against closing down Sde Dov with an urgent outcry against the closure, stating, "Closing down Sde Dov means cutting off oxygen to Eilat" because it will damage both tourism and residents of the town, whose main mode of air transportation to central Israel will be cut off. Inland flights to Eilat from Ben Gurion Airport are on a more limited scale than inland flights from Sde Dov.
Hotel Association president Amir Hayek, CPA, and hotel sector leaders (Fattal Holdings (1998) Ltd. (TASE:FTAL), Dan Hotels, Isrotel (TASE: ISRO), Club Hotel) sent an urgent appeal to the minister of finance, the minister of tourism, the minister of transport, and the chairperson of the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee calling for reconsideration of closing the airport down in 2019, "which is liable to cause heavy damage to internal tourism and residents of Eilat."
The hoteliers want Sde Dov to continue operating on a limited scale until an alternative airport is built. The outcry is coming ahead of a scheduled discussion on the issue on Monday in the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee.
In the letter, Hayek mentions that tourism in Eilat relies on conferences, summits, and vacation trips ordered by workers' committees, private Israelis, and tourists. He asserts that closing down Sde Dov without an immediate alternative "in order to use the land to build luxury apartments in Tel Aviv, if implemented, will be a grave decision with serious consequences."
Hotel industry leaders warn that together with the closing down of the airport in Eilat and its replacement by Ramon Airport, which is remote from the town, will make travel to Eilat, "long, cumbersome, and not worthwhile, both economically and in terms of time, and will have a decisive negative effect on the number of Israelis traveling to and from Eilat."
Although the occupancy rate in Eilat Hotels this summer was high (mostly because of Israeli vacationers), growing competition from overseas flights and the increasing number of Israelis traveling abroad every year will make Eilat clearly non-competitive, given the prices of overnights in the town. Without a convenient flight route from Tel Aviv to Eilat, Eilat will find itself in an inferior position vis-à-vis the plunging prices of overseas vacations.
The hoteliers also refer to the damage that residents of Eilat and the southern Arava will suffer when traveling to the greater Tel Aviv region. They claim that shutting down Sde Dov will cause serious damage to the "airlift" of 60,000 medical flights to central Israel on this route, including flights by chronic patients and those in need of professional medical treatment or special medical equipment.
The hoteliers further note that the 2008 report by the Bodinger Commission, headed by Maj. Gen. (res.) Herzl Bodinger, found that existing aviation infrastructure in Israel should not be eliminated in the absence of a proper plan including an airport in metropolitan Tel Aviv, which the report said had "many advantages."
The hoteliers are proposing leaving one runway (after Arkia leaves the Sde Dov site), a control tower, and a small terminal on a small fraction of the area along the sea, without harming the seaside promenade, until the government resolution to build an alternative airport off the Tel Aviv coast is implemented.
A 2015 government resolution stated that civil aviation activity at Sde Dov would be terminated by 2017, while military activity there would continue until January 2019. As of now, removal of civil aviation is also scheduled for next year as long as military activity on the site continues.
Last May, Huldai submitted a proposal for continuing civil aviation activity in a limited area at Sde Dov, together with construction of 8,000 housing units, 200,000 square meters of business space, 50,000 square meters of commercial space, and 40,000 square meters of hotels (the Huldai plan).
Last July, a different plan for construction at Sde Dov was submitted to the Central District Planning and Building Commission. This plan included 16,000 housing units, 208,000 square meters of business space, 126,000 square meters of commercial space, and 125,000 square meters of hotel space (the Kahlon-Netanyahu plan).
On July 30, 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at a meeting of the ministerial committee for vacating Sde Dov that the airport would be completely closed down, and that flights from it would be transferred to Ben Gurion Airport, while the possibility of building an airport on an artificial island off the Tel Aviv region coast would be considered in the future. The committee stated that military activity on the site would continue until July 2019.
The Hotel Association also states, "The state comptroller said in a 2015 report that the measures for closing down Sde Dov Airport were difficult to understand, because the feasibility of the alternative of retaining the airport on a limited format had not been considered."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 14, 2018
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