Around 40 kilometres south of Greater Noida, just ahead of Jewar toll plaza on the Yamuna Expressway connecting Noida to Agra, a signboard mentions 'Noida International Airport, Jewar.' It could well be missed while zipping to Agra. Green pastures flank the expressway and it has hardly any industrial or urban centres alongside.
Over a decade since it became operational, the Yamuna Expressway's potential remains largely under-utilised. That is all set to change once the first flight from the Noida International Airport Ltd. (NIAL) in Jewar takes off by end-2024.
The Jewar-Sikandrabad National Highway traverses a small village to reach the NIAL project site. This will not be the approach road for the airport. It is building a spur to the airport from the Yamuna Expressway.
As one approaches the project site, there is just a dusty road with labourers waiting at a makeshift pass section managed by Tata Projects, the EPC contractor appointed by concessionaire Zurich Airport International AG in June 2022. Once inside, where the 12 million passengers per annum terminal building is taking shape, the din of construction subsumes every other sound. According to Tata Projects, 0ver 7,000 labourers, 400 sub-contractors, 350 material providers, and around 90 equipment providers are working round the clock to ensure that phase one of NIAL, comprising one terminal building and one runway, is ready by end-2024.
The U.P. government signed a concession agreement with Zurich Airport International AG to develop a greenfield airport in October 2020. The concessionaire formed a 100% subsidiary, Yamuna International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (YIAPL), which selected Tata Projects as EPC contractor. On October 18, 2023, U.P. CM Yogi Adityanath conducted an aerial survey of the project. Two days later, deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya reviewed the progress of the project at the site, calling it a "dream project," while also reminding officials that operations begin by end-2024.
The plan to build an airport here dates back more than two decades. Envisaged first as Taj International Airport and aviation hub (Jewar) by BJP leader and current defence minister Rajnath Singh, when he was the U.P. chief minister in early 2001, the project got lost in the political maze with multiple leadership changes in the state and Centre. Yogi Adityanath revived it after taking charge of Uttar Pradesh in 2017.
The airport will have a multi-modal logistics hub, and an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hub. The U.P. government is developing a film city, medical device hub, and a logistics park in the neighbourhood. The airport will have its cultural ethos borrowed from India’s spiritual capital — Varanasi. The elevation of the airport — the passenger side — will come up as a replica of the Ganga Ghats. Besides the loops taking passengers to departure and arrival, a flight of stairs in red — reminiscent of the Banaras Ghats — provide a unique facade to the airport.
In the first phase till 2027, NIAL will be able to handle 12 million passengers per annum at a project cost of ₹4,588 crore, according to the Yamuna Industrial Development Authority. Phase-II, expected to be completed by 2032, will see capacity rising to 30 million passengers annually with an investment of ₹5,983 crore. In phase three that should be ready by 2037, the airport will be able to handle 50 million passengers annually at an investment of ₹8,415 crore. The fourth and final stage will see passenger handling capacity of 70 million between FY40 and FY50 and will come up at an investment of ₹10,575 crore.
The airport will have 28 aircraft stands in the first phase, which will rise to 200 by the fourth phase, while the passenger terminal building will grow to 5 lakh square metres from 1.38 lakh in the first phase.
The concession in place right now is only for the first phase for one runway and a passenger terminal to handle 12 million passengers annually. "Construction work at Noida International Airport is progressing in full swing. Tata Projects, our EPC contractor, broke ground in June 2022. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) Tower has achieved its full height of 38 metres and is going to be ready by March 2024 for handover to the Airports Authority of India," says Christoph Schnellmann, CEO, Noida International Airport.
"The paving of the 3,900 metre runway is underway. It is scheduled to be completed by March 2024," he adds. AAI will install all systems pertaining to avionics, radar system and other equipment once the ATC is handed over to them.
Tata Projects says progress on the runway is good and the company is gearing up for a test flight in February. "Meeting the statutory compliance for calibration flight is expected in February," says Ravishankar Chandrasekharan, executive vice president & SBU head, urban built form, Tata Projects. Calibration flight is an inspection flight through which performances of avionics systems are validated.
YIAPL is in talks with global and domestic carriers and has inked a pact with IndiGo to be its inaugural carrier. "Our operations at NIAL will provide U.P. residents access to our extensive network," says Pieter Elbers, CEO, IndiGo.
The airport, on its part, plans to offer a host of facilities to airlines. "Our focus has been on developing infrastructure, which is efficient and cost-effective for airlines. We will offer short turnaround times and low operating costs for airlines," says Schnellmann.
Over 2,000 square metres has been assigned for retail in domestic departures and arrivals while 1,800 square metres has been allotted for food and beverage. The forecourt retail and F&B will be spread over 1,600 square metres and duty-free areas over 1,250 square metres between international departures and arrivals. Schnellmann says concessions for commercial spaces within the terminal area will be given out over the next few months. Another key attraction for passengers and airlines will be low airfares since the U.P. government has slashed VAT on aviation turbine fuel from 21% to 1%. It could bring down the cost of a Delhi-Chennai air ticket by ₹1,000-₹1,500.
A key policy initiative which differentiates NIAL is that it is not being built in isolation. While a multi-modal cargo hub accompanies Noida airport, the U.P. government is planning to develop an aircraft MRO hub in its vicinity. Other investments coming up near the airport are film city, medical device hub, logistics park and personal rapid transport — pod taxi connecting the medical device hub with the airport.
While bringing traffic for the airport, this will ensure transport needs of upcoming investments are taken care of. "With airport as a base, interest is being shown by a host of companies to invest in various sectors. The airport will increase economic activity across the region," says Chandrasekharan.
For the aviation hub and MRO, the U.P. government is in the process of acquiring 1,365 hectare of land and floating global tenders for investments.
Meanwhile, NIAL has awarded a concession for a state-of-the-art multimodal cargo hub to Air India SATS (AISATS). It will cater to the catchment area of the airport and facilitate trade in northern India. The hub will be spread over 80 acres, which has been handed over to the concessionaire with the total land parcel of 1,334 hectares. The multi-modal cargo hub will comprise an integrated cargo terminal combined with an integrated warehousing and logistics zone.
Connectivity Key To Success
NIAL could serve as a template for future greenfield airports. However, there are still some key segments that need to be addressed as the 2024 deadline approaches. Firstly, there has to be reliable, fast mode of public transport from Delhi NCR and other catchment centres in Western U.P. and Haryana through a network of rapid rail, metro or dedicated buses. The UP government has approved a 72 km rapid rail route from Ghaziabad RRTS station to NIAL, which will be ready by 2041. Railway connectivity with a new station at Jewar linking it to the Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi Howrah line of the Indian Railways is being planned.
"We are engaging with partners to ensure bus/shuttle services are available from key centres apart from taxis. Rail connectivity, potentially via metro or RRTS, is planned to connect the airport to nearby areas," says Schnellmann.
Smooth connectivity will be key to NIAL's success.