Israel's Ramon Airport near Red Sea resort of Eilat to open January 22

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s long-awaited second international airport near the southern Red Sea resort of Eilat is expected to open on Jan. 22, the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said on Tuesday.

The $500 million Ramon Airport in the Negev desert will start operations gradually, initially with domestic flights and then likely allowing international flights beginning in March, Liza Dvir, an IAA spokeswoman, said.

She noted that the opening of the airstrip took a bit longer than planned in order to double the amount of parking spaces to 60 planes and to lengthen the runway to 3.6 km to accommodate large aircraft.

“Israel didn’t have a second international airport,” she said, referring to the 2014 conflict with Hamas militants in Gaza where missiles targeted Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport, leading some carriers to cancel flights for a few days.

Israel is hoping the new airport will help boost tourism to Eilat. A number of foreign carriers have already launched winter flights to the Ovda military airfield 60 km from Eilat for Europeans seeking a warmer climate.

Initially, Ramon will accommodate more than 2 million passengers a year with plans for an expansion to 4.5 million.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Tova Cohen