Ramon airport and lack of government strategic planning

Ramon Eilat
(File photo: AFP)
Ramon Eilat

Muath Almbaidheen

The writer is the CEO of the Performance Index Center for Strategic Studies and Consultations.

Between 2.5 and 3 million Palestinians travel over the King Hussein Bridge annually; two million of them use Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) to travel to different destinations around the world, which represents 22 percent of the total number of travelers through QAIA. This may be the main reason the government is concerned about the use of Ramon Airport for Palestinian passengers, which will have a negative economic impact Jordan.اضافة اعلان

In 2019, the revenues of Airport International Group, the operating company of QAIA, amounted to about JD200 million, of which 54.64 percent goes to the government as direct revenues, based on the build, operate, and transfer (BOT) agreement signed by the group and the government. This is equivalent to some JD2.5 billion as an indirect, stimulus, and induced return on GDP.

The Israeli decision to allow Palestinian passengers to travel through Ramon Airport may have two reasons. One is an attempt to use the freedom and ease of travel for Palestinians to counter Jordan’s objection to operating Ramon Airport as a purely economic attempt, exploiting Jordanians’ sympathy with their Palestinian brothers. Israel wishes to revive Ramon Airport, which costed approximately $1.7 billion to build, and which it was unable to operate because Jordan objected against it to the International Civil Aviation Organization for violating the protocols of building airports, in terms of distance that must be maintained between airports; Ramonis very close to King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba.

The other reason is to increase pressure on Jordan’s economy as a punishment for its steadfast stance on the Palestinian cause, and its custodianship over Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim holy places.

Jordan does not have the economic luxury to overlook its objection to the operation of Ramon Airport. But it may pay closer attention to Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, who said: “If Israel wants to facilitate travel for the Palestinians, let it open Al-Quds Airport for us,” meaning the abandoned Qalandia Airport, which is located in the northern part of the occupied West Bank and which was closed in 2000.

Operating the Ramon Airport and the government’s reaction against it show the lack of planning to deal with the simplest threats that may affect our economy, the absence of risk management governance, and being reactive rather than proactive in dealing with challenges.

This can be illustrated by the manner in which Jordan adopts and fights for the right to establish a Palestinian state and, at the same time, drops from its economic considerations the idea of an operational airport for the Palestinians in the event their state is established, or there is an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to operate Qalandia Airport.
Making QAIA one of the most important airports in the MENA region should be one of the economic empowerment pillars for Jordan.
The Palestinians have the right, like other peoples of the world, to choose the travel itinerary that is the most financially viable, most comfortable, and most effortless. The Palestinian Authority should not take unfair measures vis-à-vis its citizens traveling from Ramon Airport, a temporary courtesy to Jordan.

To deal with this issue, Jordan  has only one option: attract and encourage Palestinians to travel through QAIA and King Hussein Bridge, by facilitating the movement of passengers over the bridge through increasing the capacity for passenger traffic, improving the quality of transit services, negotiating with Israel to increase the working hours on the other side of the bridge, and introducing an incentive package that exempts travelers with an electronically documented air ticket to travel through QAIA from paying fees for crossing the bridge.

Most importantly, the government needs to realize the strategic importance of the location of QAIA, and the need to support local airlines to operate as an air bridge between East and West, by taking advantage of the geographical location of Jordan and its balanced foreign policy, which allows our airlines to cross the airspace of all neighboring countries without restrictions. It might also consider future expansion to increase its capacity.

Making QAIA one of the most important airports in the MENA region should be one of the economic empowerment pillars for Jordan. That should be easy,  knowing that the airport received in 2019 around 8.9 million passengers, constituting 74 percent of its maximum capacity, recording a growth rate of 26 percent during the period between 2015–2019, outperforming Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi airports with a compound annual growth rate of 4.7 percent.

Muath Almbaidheen is CEO of the Performance Index Center for Strategic Studies and Consultations.

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