Flying High: Steady progress in greenfield airport development

The development of greenfield airports in India has achieved significant milestones in recent times. These airports have be­co­me the driving force of development in urban areas, attracting and facilitating city-side development, and positively impacting the economy, making their timely completion more crucial. Around 21 greenfield airports have received in-principle approval under the Greenfield Airport Policy. Of these, 11 airports have been operationalised. Key among these areOrvakal (Kur­nool) airport, Sindhudurg airport, Kushi­nagar airport, Itanagar airport, Mopa airport and Shi­va­mogga airport. Alwar in Rajasthan, Sin­grauli in Madhya Pradesh and Mandi in Hima­chal Pradesh – have been granted first-sta­ge clearance for construction. A capital outlay of ap­proximately Rs 980 billion has been made by the Airports Authority of India and the other airport developers for the related development for the next five years. Moreover, the budgetary allocation of Rs 31.13 billion to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) for 2023-24 is a promising support for the successful completion of these projects.

Noida International Airport

The Noida International Airport was envisioned by the Uttar Pradesh government to serve western Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and the National Capi­tal Region. It is the second international airport in the region after Indira Gandhi Interna­tional Airport and has an estimated cost of Rs 296 billion.  It is planned to have six runways and four terminal buildings with a capacity to cater to 225 million passengers annually and handle 10 million tonnes (mt) of cargo by 2070. Upon re­ceiving approval in 2020, the construction work on the project was started in November 2021 and has witnessed fast-paced development since then. The construction of the project has been undertaken by TATA Projects Limi­ted. The western part of the airport will in­cor­porate retail and commercial development while the eastern part will be for air-side facilities, cargo and logistics. Cons­truction activities like site preparation and construction of bo­undary walls were completed in 2022, while substructure wo­rks of the passenger terminal and runway are ongoing. In recent developments, over 2,600 workers have been deploy­ed on the project, along with more than 400 construction ma­chineries on site. The work for the first phase is on track for expected completion in 2024, whi­ch will cater to 12 million passengers per an­num. While land acquisition of Phase 2 is under way, Phases 3 and 4 have also received appro­val as of December 2022.

Furthermore, Air India SATS Airport Servi­c­es Private Limited is planning a multimodal cargo hub. An integrated air cargo, warehousing and logistics facility will be developed over 80 acres of land with an initial annual capacity of over 0.2 mt, which could expand to 2 mt annually. The pro­­ject aims to leverage warehouse manageme­nt system, material handling system, automation, and tracing solutions to enhance operations and enable end-to-end visibility.

However, the project faces a few challen­ges in land acquisition, integration of technology, and implementation of machine learning-based applications. To improve airport operati­ons, Siemens and Smiths Detection will provi­de the baggage handling system and 3-D-en­abled screening respectively. There are also plans to connect the airport with high speed rail and metro in the future, catering to the large catchment area.

Mopa International Airport

The Mopa International Airport is an operational mega project developed by GMR Infra­structure Limited on a design-build-finance-operate-transfer (DBFOT) basis in public-private partnership (PPP) mode. It involves the development of airside and landside infrastructure under a concession period of 40 years. The airport is designed to handle 13.1 million passengers per annum (mppa) at a cost of Rs 33 billion. The project received approval from the central government in 2000 while land ac­quisition procedures were completed in 2002. The airport was finally inaugurated 20 years later in December 2022, and its first flight ope­rations began from Hyderabad on January 5, 2023. Some of the major challenges that the project faced are increase in cost due to delays in judicial proceedings and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Further, judicial stay orders related to environmental issues resulted in slow progress.

The growth of this airport presents a significant opportunity for regional air travel, connecting Indian cities and enhancing worldwide connectivity to regions including the Middle East and Europe. The airport has a holistic infrastructure with sustainable features like a solar power plant, LED lights on the runway, green buildings, and rainwater harvesting with recycling facilities. It also has overnight parking facilities for aircraft, making it a potential base for domestic airlines to build a robust network in Goa.

Navi Mumbai International Airport

The Navi Mumbai International Airport is another mega greenfield project being developed on a DBFOT basis under the PPP model at an estimated cost of Rs 160 billion. Adani Enterprises is the concessionaire of the project while it is being implemented by Navi Mumbai Interna­tional Airport Limited (NMIAPL). NMIAPL is a special purpose vehicle with equity participation from Adani Airport Hold­ings Limited and the City and Industrial Develop­ment Corporation (CIDCO) in a 74:26 ratio. NMIAPL achieved fi­nan­cial closure for the project in March 2022. There is a debt requireme­nt of Rs 128 billion for the project underwritten by the State Bank of India. The work on the first phase of the airport is expected to be completed by end 2024 with a capacity of 20 mppa and 0.8 mt per annum. On full completion, the airport will have the capacity to handle 60 mppa and 1.5 mt of cargo per annum.

The airport is expected to add value to the region with generation of over 0.4 million direct and indirect jobs. This would push the boundaries for the real estate sector in the region and its peripheral areas as the migration to Navi Mumbai continues to increase. Its development would raise the capital prices of the city and accelerate economic growth with str­on­ger regional connectivity. The large population residing in affordable housing in the town of Panvel, 4 km from the airport, will also have higher employment opportunities.

Future potential

Going forward, India’s civil aviation sector is expected to attract around 400 million passengers over the next 7-10 years according to MoCA. The industry has already reached 95 per cent of pre-Covid passenger traffic. It reportedly supports 5 per cent of India’s GDP and 1.4 per cent of the world GDP. With inc­re­ased demand for air travel in many cities, passenger and cargo traffic have reached an unprecedented high. As a result, the development of greenfield airport projects by the government and developers has become necessary. Even the remote regions of north-eastern India are beginning to see related development. Many airports in the region are in the pipeline – at Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh, Dib­ru­garh, Guwahati, and Silchar in Assam, Imphal in Manipur, Barapani in Meghalaya and Agar­tala airport in Tripura. Some of the other big-ticket upcoming greenfield airport projects (with their estimated cost) are at Parandur in Chennai (Rs 200 billion), Great Nicobar Island in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands (Rs 103.59 billion), Chiethu in Nagaland (Rs 88.7 billion), Bhogapuram in Andhra Pradesh (Rs 42.09 billion) and Sabarimala in Kerala (Rs 39 billion), among others.