Work starts on 2nd major airport for India's capital area

Swiss developer has plans for a terminal catering to 12m passengers in the airport's first phase of development by the end of 2024

The urban sprawl in and around Delhi - known as the National Capital Region (NCR) - will soon have two major airports, the first megapolis in India to do so.

Located in the town of Jewar in Uttar Pradesh state, the Noida International Airport (NIA) is scheduled to be launched in the last quarter of 2024. This is expected to relieve pressure on Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in Delhi which is India's busiest.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has dented aviation growth, the NCR, with a population of around 50 million and its strong demand for more flights, has a pressing need for a second major airport.

IGIA is expected to reach saturation point by 2030 with around 110 million passengers annually. The region has a second but smaller airport in Ghaziabad that handles a few regional flights.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone for the high-profile NIA project on Thursday. The ceremony is part of a publicity blitz featuring several infrastructure projects ahead of elections early next year in India's most populous state where Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to retain power.

Spread over 1,334 hectares, the airport in Jewar is being developed by Yamuna International Airport Private Limited (YIAPL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Zurich Airport International. The Swiss firm has plans for a terminal catering to 12 million passengers in the airport's first phase of development by the end of 2024.

Another terminal will see the airport cater to around 70 million passengers annually by the end of the 40-year concession agreement that Zurich Airport International signed with the Uttar Pradesh government in October last year.

During this period, the number of aircraft movements on NIA's two runways is expected to grow from 96,400 to 489,700 per year.

Mr Daniel Bircher, YIAPL's chairman and managing director, told The Straits Times the catchment area of the NCR is large enough for two major airports, with estimates indicating that it could account for as many as 200 million passengers by the end of the 40-year concession period.

"Delhi NCR being, I would say, one of the largest metropolitan areas on the whole planet, definitely needs additional airport capacity," he said, giving the examples of other metropolises such as London, Tokyo and Sao Paulo that have more than one airport each.

NIA is more than 80km away from IGIA and is located off the Yamuna Expressway that connects India's capital with Agra, famous for the Taj Mahal.

The government is working on establishing a metro rail link between the two airports as well as a high-speed rail link between Delhi and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh that will pass through the airport.

The NIA project is a high-stakes one for Mr Modi's government which wants to hasten the pace of infrastructure development in the country, often held back by bureaucratic sloth and problems related to land acquisition. Progress has been quite smooth for the project since it was cleared in 2017, with about 1,330 hectares acquired and earthworks and construction of boundary walls already initiated.

Sustainability will be an important characteristic of the airport, with its reliance on renewable energy and an environmentally-responsible building design.

"Our ambition is to become net zero (in terms of emissions) as quickly as possible, ideally from the start. If that's not possible, then within a short time," said Mr Bircher.

It will also factor in easy passenger transfers as well as an integrated terminal design allowing airlines to operate an aircraft parked at a specific stand for both domestic as well as international flights without having them to reposition it, leading to quicker aircraft turnarounds. The airport will target airlines that serve international destinations in West Asia, South-east Asia and parts of Central Asia.

NIA is one of several new airports being built in India, including secondary ones in Mumbai and Goa that are expected to cater to post-pandemic growth in aviation. The Navi Mumbai International Airport is also expected to start functioning around 2024, and is being developed by Adani Airport Holdings.

Mr Kapil Kaul, CEO and director of aviation research and consultancy firm Capa India, believes the development of long-term airport capacity is critical for the country's aviation and economic growth.

But he said India's airport capacity expansion needs to be planned in a more structured manner so that it can keep pace with demand. "We need a national-level airport capacity plan - integrated with regional and state-level plans - that lasts a generation."

India's airport development projects have drawn global interest, including from Singapore's Changi Airports International which has a 30 per cent stake in Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited that is developing Durgapur Aerotropolis, a privately managed airport township, in West Bengal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2021, with the headline 'Work starts on 2nd major airport for India's capital area'. Subscribe