BACKED BY THE UPCOMING NOIDA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IN JEWAR, INDIA’S NORTHERN REGION IS ALL SET TO EMERGE AS AN AVIATION POWERHOUSE WHOSE IMPACT WILL BE FELT FAR AND WIDE
CHAPTER 1 RELOCATION
A few years ago, Rohit Tomar left his cushy job with a Vietnam-based airline and founded a consultancy with his wife Veena. Tomar picked Mumbai, his city of birth and one of India’s primary aviation hubs, for the headquarters of his firm Caladrius Aero. However, this March, the Tomars decided to shift to Greater Noida in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR). “Delhi-NCR has more opportunities in aviation. Most of the country’s major airlines are now based here. With the completion of the upcoming airport in Jewar, the region will have two international airports within two hours of each other. Also, a lot of work in the development of a drone industry is happening, especially in Noida and its surrounding areas, due to the push being given to it by the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government,” he tells Business Today. Tomar is not alone—he can count at least five other people in his professional circle who have shifted from metros like Mumbai and Bengaluru to Delhi-NCR in the past two years.
To Tomar’s point, India’s largest airline IndiGo is based out of Gurugram, which also houses the headquarters of Jet Airways (originally founded in Mumbai). After buying Air India, the Tata group is looking to synergise its aviation assets—AirAsia India, Vistara, Air India Express and Air India SATS, the ground handling supplier—under one roof in Gurugram.
Clearly, Delhi-NCR is fast turning into a powerful aviation hub. The commencement of work on the much-delayed Noida International Airport (NIA) at Jewar, UP, is expected to cement this trend. “All aviation majors, including original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), airlines, training facilities, warehousing and logistics firms, and aviation insurance firms, have their presence here. It will be the next aviation capital of India,” predicts Pulak Sen, Founder Secretary General, MRO Association of India, and a long-time Mumbai resident who shifted to Ghaziabad in Delhi-NCR a few years ago. “NIA has been designed keeping in mind future expansion. Once the project comes up, activities such as warehousing and logistics, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), and others will develop around it. As the airport has been planned in recent times and occupies a large land parcel, it will take a very long time to get saturated,” says Sen.
On completion by the last quarter of 2024, NIA will become one of the largest aviation hubs in the Asia-Pacific. With 12 entry points, the 400,000-sq. m passenger terminal can handle 12 million passengers annually, which can be expanded to handle 30 million passengers. A second terminal, once constructed, will take that capacity to 70 million. Currently, India’s biggest airport, the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, has a capacity to handle 60 million passengers annually. NIA will also be India’s first net-zero emissions airport.
Land acquisition for the first phase is largely completed. “Nothing will derail the construction progress. We’ve completed about 70 per cent of the boundary wall. We’re working hand-in-hand with the UP government, and we continue to make steady progress,” says Christoph Schnellmann, CEO of the project’s concessionaire, Yamuna International Airport Pvt. Ltd (YIAPL), a 100 per cent subsidiary of Flughafen Zürich. YIAPL has selected Tata Projects as the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor for the project. It will construct the terminal, runway, airside infrastructure, landside facilities and other ancillary buildings at the site.
CHAPTER 2 THE BEGINNINGS
Jewar, about 87 km from the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) in Delhi, was once amongst the most backward regions of UP. Metalled roads were largely absent and one had to drive through Faridabad in neighbouring Haryana to reach villages in the area. Villagers recall how, 30 years ago, they had to wake up at 4 am and spend up to four hours to reach work in Delhi. Today, it takes less than an hour on the six-lane Yamuna Expressway.
Like India’s unpaved village roads, the road to the airport was filled with obstacles. The project was cleared in 2003 by the then NDA government as Taj International and Aviation Hub, and was expected to be completed by 2007-08. The plan was shelved with the change of guard at the centre after the GMR Group claimed that a second airport in the NCR would adversely impact traffic and revenues at IGIA, which it operated. In 2010, the Bahujan Samaj Party government in UP tried to revive the project. The villagers’ agitation that followed the state government’s drive to acquire land along the Yamuna Expressway according to a British-era law ultimately resulted in the central government enacting the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. The law seeks to pay the affected a compensation of four times the market value of their land in a rural area, and two times in an urban area.
One person who played a key role in reviving the project was Dr Mahesh Kumar Sharma, the BJP lawmaker from Noida, as the Union minister of state for civil aviation (2014-2016). “During a discussion with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, I submitted to him that if cities like New York and Washington DC could have three airports each, why couldn’t the Delhi-NCR have one more airport?” reminisces Sharma, a qualified physician. Besides Jewar, sites in Bhiwadi (Rajasthan), Rohtak (Haryana) and Agra (UP) were also considered. “After all the feasibility studies were completed, I managed to convince Akhilesh Yadav (then UP chief minister) that an airport in Jewar wouldn’t only be more viable, but also a win-win proposition for both the state and centre,” he says.
In 2018, the Noida International Airport Co. Ltd was formed to handle aspects like bidding and project management. The state administration then explained the benefits of the project to farmers, who were reluctant to hand over their land. “I told them that it was with great difficulty and after a very long wait that our area would have a transformative infrastructure project. Once the farmers were convinced of the developments that the project would lead to, they came on board,” says Dhirendra Singh, the MLA from Jewar.
So it was that on November 25, 2021, the PM laid the foundation stone for the project in a public ceremony that attracted thousands of excited villagers, especially women, who turned up in hordes, singing popular folk songs. “NIA will help drive economic growth and job creation in the region. The airport partners will directly employ 4,000-5,000 men and women from the region. The project will also help create thousands of job opportunities indirectly,” says Schnellmann. Already, the project partners are examining ways of offering work to locals during the construction phase.
CHAPTER 3 AEROTROPOLIS
A new concept in urban planning, an aerotropolis is a city whose infrastructure, land use and economy are centred around an airport, which provides fast connectivity to different parts of the world. In the age of Industry 4.0, an aerotropolis will prove to be a disruptor. “The biggest disruption could be in the use of technology in design, operation and data management, which could influence consumer behaviour and customer experience for passengers, airlines or service providers, and redefine cost and efficiency of operations for aero or non-aero businesses,” says an aviation expert requesting anonymity.
Then, even as Singapore became the preferred gateway for trade in Asia over the past 15 years, India is poised to become a part of the next growth gateway. “Airports and seaports are critical infrastructure to provide a fulcrum for gateways and we have seen the success of the symbiotic aggregation between such critical infra in the Middle-East and the rest of Asia,” observes Tomar. “Across India, there has never been such a large-scale greenfield airport project. The growth in domestic trade has been propelled [so far] by leveraging the existing airport infrastructure. NIA is truly an opportunity for Indian aviation and trade to take a step towards becoming a global gateway.”
Compared to other airports in India , NIA has two advantages, according to Tomar. First, its location in one of the highest consumption states and abundance of skilled manpower with connectivity to key transport gateways within India provides a significant advantage to manufacturers, logistics players and multi-modal aggregators. Second, the greenfield development has been conceptualised in terms of ‘design to sustain’ rather than ‘design to optimise’. “In the case of design to sustain, the principles of design are focussed on building sustainability under high-growth environments and offer significant room to grow the business over several years,” says Tomar.
READYING FOR TAKE-OFF:
An artist’s rendition of the Noida International Airport
In NIA’s case, the first phase of 1,334 hectares will be followed by the second phase on a similar-sized land parcel, for which land acquisition has already started. For subsequent phases, another 5,000 hectares are proposed to be acquired. By the end of the concession period for Flughafen Zürich in 2060, the number of runways at NIA is planned to expand to six, and passenger traffic in excess of 70 million annually. “Considering the size of the Indian consumer market, the project has the potential to transform into the largest aviation logistics hub in Asia-Pacific,” says Neha Singh, Associate Partner at law firm Link Legal. Current logistics hubs like Hong Kong, Doha and Japan are definite competitors. But NIA is an important development in the Indian aviation landscape. Some big-ticket projects that are proposed include an international film city, a medical devices park, and a multimodal logistics cluster.
Several initiatives are afoot towards ensuring multi-modal connectivity. Work will start on the interchange to connect Yamuna Expressway to the airport site. This is part of the 56-km Faridabad-Noida-Ghaziabad (FNG) Expressway that will also be connected to Gurugram. The UP government is looking at building a 29-km metro line to connect Jewar with the Noida Metro. Meanwhile, the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. is studying the feasibility of connecting NIA with IGIA through a 72-km-long line. Jewar is proposed as one of the stations on the planned Delhi-Varanasi bullet train project. In addition, the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority (YEIDA) is keen to have a corridor connecting the airport to the under-construction Delhi-Meerut semi-high-speed line.
CHAPTER 4 WAREHOUSING & LOGISTICS
Another key area is warehousing and logistics. NIA recently invited proposals for the development of an integrated cargo terminal and warehousing and logistics zone. “We expect cargo capacity of over 200,000 tonnes per year when the facility opens and expect it to grow up to 1.7 million tonnes by 2040,” estimates Schnellmann. NIA envisages the operation of large and wide-bodied passenger aircraft, smaller business jets, and freighters. The seamless movement of passenger traffic—including coverage of last-mile connectivity—by building a multimodal transport hub would be integral to providing long-term value. “Similarly, the integration of the cargo terminals with highly efficient and International Air Transport Association-approved warehouses and systematic cohesion of truckers and freighters, rail and maritime transport would be equally significant for the growth, development and efficiency of a very challenging cargo and logistics sector,” says Link Legal’s Singh.
NIA, which is proposed to be a multimodal logistics and transport hub, is likely to transform the supply chain landscape in north India over the next five to six years. “With the emergence of the greenfield airport, the demand for land for manufacturing and warehousing sectors will surge,” says Bhupindra Singh, MD, North India, Colliers. With state support, the NIA would also address newer catchments and offer a cost advantage for shippers and cargo handlers. “The operationalisation of the airport would provide an alternative to the ever-increasing warehousing and logistics demand in the NCR. Regions such as Noida, Ghaziabad and Greater Noida may see increased development activity of modern warehouses,” says Raaja Kanwar, Chairman & MD of logistics group Apollo International.
“The Delhi-NCR will house 38 million people over the next five years. The current airport and cargo capacities are full. So, NIA will be a solid addition to the sector,” says J.B. Singh, Director at B2B logistics player MOVIN, a JV between InterGlobe Enterprises and UPS. “It will be a great asset for airlines to support express services connecting commercial centres in the north to the rest of India, and potentially serve as an international hub for South Asia.”
Apart from traditional cargo, there is the rapidly growing e-commerce segment. “This requires the service providers to continually adapt to efficient and transparent practices, as it involves the consumer directly who is looking for speed, visibility and predictability,” says Link Legal’s Singh. E-commerce firms like Amazon and Flipkart continue to sign up large leases to cater to increasing demand. “The new airport will boost air cargo capacity in the region. Improved road connectivity between Jewar, Western UP and Haryana will make distribution into UP, Rajasthan and the rest of north India much easier and faster,” says Manju Dhawan, Co-founder, Ecom Express.