A New International Airport in the Making

By on November 7, 2000

Artist's impression of the terminal building interior at Ben Gurion airportBalancing the various needs of an international airport is no simple matter – constructors currently building the new terminal near Lydda (a historical town whose name was recorded already in the year 1465 B.C.), 15 km southeast of Tel Aviv, must take into consideration the diverse requirements of passengers, airlines, government, airport operators and the environment.  A visit to the site and talks with the leading figures of this construction project of the new Ben Gurion International Airport brought into focus the enormity of such an undertaking.

Diverting a river is not an absolute requirement for the construction of an airport.  But in Israel, it has just been done: the course of the Ayalon River (dry in summer, flowing after winter rains), was changed to enable the building of the infrastructure of a new international airport.

Begun in May 1998, the first phase of the new Ben Gurion airport is scheduled to be finished in summer 2002.

As we drove within the construction area – kilometers across a twisting, partly unpaved road, surrounded by sand and rock, we saw rows of columns, some of them only half-finished, waiting to hold up a multi-level bridge and other links, and trucks of all types loaded with every kind of building material, such as sand, cement and steel.  We wondered at the size and fast progress of this futuristic airport-to-be, which at this point looked like a technological version of the Wild West.

In a makeshift building housing many of the offices of those in charge of this enormous operation on 250 hectares- in effect, the currently the country’s largest national construction project, – we met with Zvi Frank, overall director on behalf of the Israel Airports Authority.  Frank, who has been with Israel’s international airport in various capacities since 1976, is a member of the World Technical Safety Standing Committee of the Airports International Council (ACI) and an expert in airport management and urban and regional matters.  He explained the raison d’etre behind the current undertaking: why a new airport, what led up to the choice of the location and how the new facility will look and work.

“Israel’s economy is based on the import and export of goods and people: agriculture, tourism and industry form the basis of this economy.  From abroad, there are actually only two ways to enter and exit the country: by sea and by air.  And what takes 12 hours by air takes up to 3 weeks by sea – it’s basically a 1:10 ratio.  Except for oranges and other citrus fruit and the salts from the Dead Sea – potassium and bromide – every agricultural and industrial product is exported by air.  That includes, inter alia, such lightweight and high value items as pharmaceuticals, high tech goods, and sophisticated plastics articles.

“Today speed is the motto: once manufacturers bought two pieces of machinery – one for use, another for reserve.  Today if something goes wrong, they want the spare part plus technician within 6 hours!”

Israel’s massive immigration, Zvi Frank stresses, in addition to creating major changes in the economy, has caused a big boom in air travel in the last decade.  While in 1991 Ben Gurion Airport handled 3 million passengers, (a long way from the 40,000 passengers who passed through the airport in 1948, the first year of Israel’s independence), the number jumped to 5 million in 1995, and currently 7 million travelers avail themselves of the airport’s services, with 75,000 annual aircraft movements.  And while aircraft costs are going up, tourism costs are constantly going down.  So, it is imperative that the aircraft spend more time in the air – and this puts more pressure on airports since these must supply required conditions in order to avoid aircraft delays and consequent prolongations of ground time.

The existing airport facilities at Ben Gurion airport were built by the British in 1936; they are not adequate to handle the increasing human load, and while from time to time limited-in-scope adjustments and expansions were made to solve immediate problems, for years no long-term planning was undertaken.  The existing airport had reached the limit of its capacity.

It became obvious that the existing facilities could not be expanded, what with a major highway on one side, and inhabited villages on the other.

In 1977 the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) enacted a law making the IAA a statutory entity and gave it the mandate to build, manage and operate all of Israel’s airports.  Before that, the IAA had been part of the Ministry of Transportation.

With an eye to the future, and the growing need to accommodate an increasing number of passengers, the Israel Airport Authority, a quasi-government body, owned by the state, but managed independently and investing its own money, began to look into the possibility of initially expanding passenger facilities and additional cargo handling capabilities at a later stage.

The IAA has set for itself the following objectives:

  • To plan the development of Ben Gurion International Airport to an annual activity, in phases, of up to 16 million international passengers.
  • To design, construct and operate a flexible and modular terminal area, which will be adaptable to changes in types of aircraft, transportation composition, etc. Concurrently, adequate solutions are sought for the development of infrastructure, handling of luggage, maintenance facilities, service and support.
  • To minimize harm to the environment and take into consideration the well-being of neighboring settlements
  • To execute the planning and construction as quickly as possible

The new Ben Gurion International Airport plan.“Of course, we had to plan within the law, and that involves a myriad processes”, says Frank.  “There were hearings before numerous public committees.  The national planning committee, made up of 35 government officials and representatives of the public, could bring objections and had to show alternatives, since all these procedures are a matter of public record.

“And all of it is under strict legal scrutiny.  We even envisage the possibility of having the matter come up one day at the Supreme Court.”

Major debates took place over the two options — whether to develop the existing airport, or to abandon it and go elsewhere.  The decision was made to go elsewhere, but where?  Three potential locations were assessed, with two alternative plans for each of them.  “While the discussion of the planning committee was taking place, we took the risk and invested $50million to get the ball rolling: architectural design and engineering programming took place between the years 1994 and 1998.  Such a program, we figured, would fit any location that was decided on.”

The fact is that out of Israel’s population of 6 million, 4 million live in the areas of greater Tel Aviv and greater Jerusalem.  The present location, between these two cities, is 3km west of the existing airport and was chosen for two main reasons:

  1. It is not good policy to move an airport more than 40 kms away from the main population centers, and,
  2. The more inland the airport is situated, the more it disturbs its surroundings.  (While the chosen location is not far from the coastline, it is somewhat removed from it, since the coastline itself is under vigil of green societies in Israel.)

In May 1998 the digging and building got under way to build an airport which would surpass the present one with a much bigger capacity and a declared maximum level of comfort to passengers.

About CADinfo

Online CAD information and resources since 1990

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *