CEO Christoph Schnellmann says NIA will be a greenfield airport with a zero-emission philosophy.
The much-awaited Noida International Airport (NIA) that is coming up at Jewar in Uttar Pradesh would provide much relief to the traffic at the Delhi airport and is likely to become the first international hub for India. The greenfield airport is likely to begin operations by the end of 2024.
The Sunday Guardian spoke to the Chief Executive Officer of NIA, Christoph Schnellmann, about the progress of construction of NIA and what the new airport holds for all of us. Excerpts:
Q: Can you give us an update on the construction status of the Noida International airport?
A: The construction work is going on in full swing. With over nine months into the construction with Tata Projects, the excavation process and earthwork for the terminal building and the runway have been completed with multiple mega pours over the last few weeks. Vertical construction for buildings has also started. There are almost 3,000 workers who are fully mobilized at the site. In the next few months, nearly a dozen buildings will come up at the site, including the passenger terminal, air traffic control tower, office blocks, sewage and water treatment plants, and electric sub-stations. The airport will become operational by the end of 2024 with one terminal building and one runway, with a passenger capacity of 12 million per year.
Q: What are the challenges you have faced so far and how have you been able to overcome those?
A: The biggest challenge that we all faced as an industry is the unprecedented onset of the Covid-19 while we were just beginning. Nonetheless, we learned a lot during this period, and for me, two things that stand out to tackle any such challenge are, one, the importance of having contingency plans in place, of thinking through potential crisis situations and our responses in advance, the second being the importance of transparent and regular communication with all stakeholders during times of crisis. The Central government, as well as the Government of UP, have been very supportive throughout and we are envisaging a seamless road ahead as we move forward in the construction of the airport.
Q: Is NIA confident enough to meet the deadline for beginning the operations by September 2024? Also, if you could share the detailed timeline of the airport as to when the trial flights are expected and when are we likely to see the first commercial aircraft take off from this new airport?
A: Yes, we are confident with the progress of the work at the Noida International Airport and envisage operations to start by the end of 2024. We also expect to start the test flights around mid-2024.
Q: How many airlines are you in talks with for operations from this airport currently and what is the status of those talks?
A: We are in talks with various airlines that have shown interest and are sending queries on the routes. The details are being discussed with all of them and we expect a good start to our operations with so much interest from airline partners.
Q: It is also being said that NIA is aspiring to be the first international hub for India. How are you planning to achieve this feat?
A: We are developing NIA as India’s leading airport in terms of customer service, operational efficiency, digital services, and commitment to minimal environmental impact. We are focused on developing a digital airport that supports contactless travel, ease of way finding, and optimum dwell time for passengers.
To provide air cargo and logistics infrastructure for the catchment area of Noida International Airport, we have recently awarded a concession for a multi-modal cargo hub (MMCH) to Air India SATS. Spanning over 80 acres of land, the upcoming cargo hub will provide quick, convenient, and intermodal connectivity. The cargo and logistics infrastructure and ecosystem will cater to a differentiated catchment and several upcoming industrial clusters in NCR and Uttar Pradesh, creating a cargo gateway for Northern India.
Q: Is NIA looking towards having a huge chunk of traffic shift from the Delhi Airport? What are your expectations from the new airport?
A: India has witnessed historic growth in air traffic in recent times. As per IATA’s projections, India’s aviation industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.8% for the next two decades. The report also indicates that Indian aviation will cater to 430 million additional air passenger journeys to and from and within India in 2040 as compared to 2019. We are also excited by the aircraft orders by Indian airlines, which is yet another indication that India will see accelerated growth in air traffic. Aligned with this growth story of the Indian aviation industry, we are building additional airport infrastructure for the NCR region.
Q: What aspects of sustainability and environmental friendliness are being undertaken for the construction of this airport?
A: Sustainability was an important consideration for airport design from the outset. In fact, sustainability and environmental impact were some of the key criteria based on which we selected the airport planning and design teams. NIA will be a greenfield airport with an ambitious zero-emission philosophy. The airport planning, construction, operation, and further development will be undertaken while minimizing the environmental impact of airport operations. There are also plans to implement technologies and processes like zero-emission fuels and electricity, waste and waste-water management, and environmental management system to realize this goal.
In the terminal, passive measures such as use of natural lighting, natural ventilation and glare protection will help improve passenger experience and reduce CO2 footprint and energy costs.
Q: We have often seen that most of the airports in India are having huge issues such as traffic clogging, long queues, etc. in their terminals and many are being blamed for the lack of long-term planning and airport operators being caught unawares of the traffic growth like we witnessed in Delhi and Mumbai recently. How are you going to address this issue from the very beginning?
A: Indian aviation is certainly witnessing huge traffic growth lately which is only poised to grow further. We have a phased master plan to accommodate the passenger and air cargo growth flexibly in the years ahead to ensure that the airport’s expansion is aligned with traffic growth. NIA will provide for a 12 million annual pax capacity once it becomes operational which will further grow to over 70m pax p.a. in later phases of development. NIA will combine Indian design and hospitality with Swiss technology and efficiency to design a customer-first, congestion-free environment. We are building a fully digital airport in India, enabling fast, safe, and accurate movement of baggage, contactless biometric journey with short-walking distances as well as personalized services for families/elderly & business travellers.
Recently, we partnered with Siemens to provide fast and safe transportation of baggage with a high level of accuracy. This partnership will help us deliver a quick, cost-efficient, and seamless experience to our passengers at the airport, thereby saving time for our passengers.
Q: What advanced or modern technologies are being installed in this new airport, both for passenger experience as well as airlines experience?
A: Noida International Airport will be India’s leading airport in terms of customer service, efficiency, digital services, and logistics eco-system with minimal environmental impact. NIA will implement state-of-the-art and proven technology that supports seamless and contactless travel for passengers. NIA differentiators will be—ease of way finding, optimum dwell time, and seamless travel experience. This will be supported by integrated systems and services including the use of technologies such as indoor navigation, passenger flow management, self-service mobile check-in and baggage drop, as well as digital processing across all checkpoints in line with the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation’s DigiYatra Policy.
The digital airport will provide a “Plug & Play” environment for airlines with the objective to maximize passenger experience, minimize cost for the airline, and provide overall cost and operational efficiency. We will also implement the full potential of digital possibilities to create insights, build data-based products, and enable data-driven decision-making which will benefit the passengers as well as the airline partners.