Record year for travel at Ben Gurion in 2016

A statue of first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion seen at the departure hall of Ben Gurion International Airport. (Photo: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Last year saw an increase in travelers, flights, destinations, airlines, low-cost travel and automation to Ben Gurion Airport, according to Israel Airports Authority (IAA) 2016 statistics, a booming year for Israel’s international airport.

Some 17,387,971 international and over 600,000 domestic travelers combined to make 2016 a record year for the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) award winning airport, up 11 percent, or 1.6 million travelers, over 2015.

“The market share that has really grown this year is connecting flights at Ben Gurion Airport,” said Airport Director Shmuel Zakai. “Ben Gurion Airport has become attractive for airlines that are matching their networks to the flight schedule at Ben Gurion Airport. Companies like Turkish [Airlines], Pegasus and Aeroflot lead today’s market of connecting flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Europe and naturally, the countries that have led the growth of 1.6 million passengers this year were Ukraine, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Cyprus.”

According to the IAA, the increase is due to the liberalization of flight regulation with the European Union under the Open Skies agreement set up by Transportation Minister Israel Katz in 2012. The policy, which is now beginning to bear fruit, allows for greater competition and hence lower prices.

Turkey was the top destination with 1.6 million passengers, especially Arab Israelis, although the overall majority were transfers. Italy (1.5 million), America (1.45 million) and Germany (1.2 million) followed, with Russia and France receiving 1 million each.

Total flights were over 110,000 to a relatively high 135 destinations on more than 100 airlines – easily led by Israel’s national carrier, El Al, with 5.5 million passengers.

Low cost travel approached 20 percent of the total, led by Easy Jet with 719,000 passengers.

The IAA continues to encourage online check-in for greater efficiency and lower costs – an option taken up by a record 36 percent of 2016 outgoing passengers and 90 percent of low-cost travelers.

Israelis comprised 70 percent of all travelers through the airport, taking advantage of lower costs and holiday packages, while 30 percent were tourists, including transfers.

While 2016 incoming tourism saw a five-year low, Eilat’s Ovda Airport experienced almost a 100 percent rise in travelers, indicating a tourist boom for the southern city.