Everytime there is news about Jewar airport, I get to hear two very opposite stories – one of hope which comes from infrastructure enthusiasts and another of complaints about how far Jewar is and why are people even looking at that airport. Over the weekend, I looked at the location, numbers, growth possibilities and the capacity of Jewar or Noida International Airport (NIA) as its official name goes.
As a spoiler, I was excited to see the numbers and possibilities. Let us look at the key things in detail. I focused only on Phase 1 of the project. The experience with both Bengaluru and Hyderabad has been that significant phases have seen considerable changes to the project plan, growth projections and more.
Jewar airport had been much talked about for the last decade but it saw the light of the day with the signing of a concession agreement in 2020 – right in the middle of COVID. Zurich Airport International had won the bid for development of NIA, a year earlier.
It has completed significant milestones leading to the ground breaking ceremony in November 2021 with an objective of having a single runway with 12 million passengers per annum (mppa) in phase 1. When the project eventually scales up, the plan is to have six runways with capacity of over 100 million passengers per annum and a large cargo hub.
Phase 1 of the project is slated to be operational by October 2024.
A look at the numbers – 12 mppa
Capacity calculation is done on the basis of footfalls – which includes both arriving and departing passengers. While the numbers are never split 50-50, for the sake of calculation we will assume so. The capacity of the airport will be 6 mppa for departures (and arrivals each). We are looking at 60 lakh passengers a year on the upper side. Let us remind ourselves that very few airports open to full capacity and in fact the up side is built in to ensure that the passenger numbers grow and reach the upper cap just in time for the next phase to be operational. Sometimes, it’s even prudent to have congestion before the next phase opens.
The daily capacity for the airport for departing passengers will be close to 16,400. With a predominantly LCC market and factoring in the LCC A321s and FSC seating mix, it is fair to assume a load factor of 80% (conservative) and passengers per flight at 150 (factoring in large turboprop operations)
This roughly translates to 110 departures a day to reach full capacity! Goa – which recently saw a new airport start operations is already clocking over 35 departures a day and likely to go beyond that soon. Goa – Dabolim has been congested but not to an extent of IGI, Delhi.
How will it start? There are various aspects to it and let us look at them one by one. There are few considerations here that need to be made, especially around IGI, Delhi at near saturation. While the new terminal at T1 will ensure additional passenger handling – the runway movements will go up with the fourth runway, anything beyond that would require optimisation of air traffic movements.
The airport construction work is now visible on Google Maps. The site is located 70 kms from Delhi Airport and its catchment areas include Greater NOIDA (42 kms), NOIDA (60 kms), Ghaziabad (70 kms), Faridabad (75 kms) amongst the NCR region along with surrounding areas like Mathura (70 kms), Bulandshahar (40 kms), Aligarh (65 kms) and Agra (130 kms).
There have been concerns about the distance. A range of 30-45 kms is normal worldwide. It was a concern when Bengaluru and Hyderabad greenfield airports started but over the years the lack of options and different modes of transportation ensured that traffic continues to grow. If all goes well, NIA will also have metro connectivity – which adds to the ease of getting to the airport. Metro connectivity is an integral part of airports worldwide and something which Indian airports have lacked.
Markets – New and Old
Reaching the airport is one part of the story, is there enough market to fly? The airport is coming up as an alternative to IGI, Delhi with a primary assumption that IGI, Delhi will be out of capacity very soon – even after expansions.
This will be a certain market that will veer towards NIA because of distance, cost, convenience – if not anything else and this market includes the tourism potential of Mathura, Agra and regional cities of Bulandshahr and Aligarh.
Like Mumbai, Delhi has been pushing out turboprops or making it very difficult to get slots for turboprops. They have a reason for that. Turboprops are known to consume longer duration from approach to vacating the runway eating up into the Air Traffic Movements. Apart from this the financial discounts which most turboprops get due to central schemes are also responsible for larger congested airports wanting turboprops to stay away.
Enter NIA. In the early stages, the airport would not have such restrictions which means it will open up possibilities for IndiGo to have a large northern base for its ATR 72-600s
IndiGo and Air India are planning to induct many more aircraft over the next three to five years. Akasa Air has publicly stated plans of another aircraft order. The 100 or so grounded planes will soon take to the air and the air traffic will only go up from here on. What will be needed is space for night parking these aircraft. Most large airports have run out of that and some Tier 2 airports also struggle to allocate more night parking slots. NIA with its expansive apron could be home to many of these planes and that adds up to the flights.
The success of the airport and traffic will also depend on allocation of bilaterals. We have seen lot many airports come up as international airports and then struggling with traffic since foreign carriers were not given rights to operate to those and Indian carriers had limited operations. Another factor to consider will be the relatively lower average income in the immediate catchment area vis a vis that of Gurgaon.
At the same time, the puzzle has to be ready at inauguration. In a country where we have always looked at things in isolation, a repeat of that at NIA would mean an airport built in the middle of nowhere! Sadly the operator would have little control over this area. Time to wait with bated breath – aviation as we know is definitely changing and 2024 will be a big year for Indian aviation.
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