When you arrive in Israel the chances are that you will have landed at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international airport. The airport is just 15 kilometres from Tel Aviv and about 70 kilometres from Jerusalem, making it ideally situation for the vast majority of travellers.
However, the airport was not always called Ben Gurion. It started out in 1936 as an airstrip of four concrete runways by the town of Lod (then called Lydda). The British Mandate built it, primarily for military purposes. The airport was originally called Wilhema Airport (named after the German Templar colony) and its name was changed to RAF Station Lydda in 1943. It was a major airfield during WWII and was used for military air transport and aircraft ferry operations between bases in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South/Southeast Asia.
The British gave up the airport at the end of April 1948 and then soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces captured it on July 10 1948 and transferred control to the newly created State of Israel. In the same year, the name was changed from Lydda to Lod and flights resumed on 24 November 1948. In the first year, 40,000 passengers made their way through the airport and by 1952 the number had risen to 100,000 a month. Within ten years the airport was so busy that flights were being diverted to Tel Aviv’s second airport, the Sde Dov airfield, and by the mid-1960s there were 14 international airlines landing at the airport.
Lod Airport had its name changed to Ben Gurion International Airport in 1973 to honour the country’s first Prime Minister. However, occasionally today you will still see it referred to as Lod Airport.
Over the years more buildings and runways were added to the airport but by the 1990s it was clear that the existing facilities were woefully inadequate. This led to the design of a brand new modern terminal that could accommodate high levels of tourist traffic. The project began in January 1994 but the new terminal, Terminal 3, was not opened until 2 November 2004.
At present, there is more work going on at Terminal 3, an additional concourse is being built and the landside terminal is being expanded so that it can accommodate a few more million passengers each year.
While Israel is a very small country, there is a second large international airport under construction, the Eilat Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport. The airport is in the south of Israel and will replace Eilat’s tiny airport. It is due to open early in 2018 and will be able to accommodate large aircraft thanks to a 3.6km runway.
The new airport is just 18 kilometres away from Eilat so it will be the perfect place to land if you are going for a beach holiday. It is expected that as many as 2 million people a year will pass through the airport and there will be shuttle services running to Eilat city centre and the various hotels.