Jewar airport, on the outskirts of New Delhi, is looking to start operations by the end of September 2024. Zurich Airport International AG won the bid to develop Noida International Airport, a single runway facility designed to handle 12 million passengers a year, in 2019.
September 30, 2024, is “is the date we are working towards,” Christoph Schnellmann, chief executive officer of Noida International, who has been associated with Zurich Airport since 2007, said in an interview with Moneycontrol.
Initially, a majority, or around 90 percent of the traffic, is estimated to be made up of domestic passengers, he said.
Schnellmann said Zurich Airport saw itself primarily as an operator of airports and not as a financial investor and expressed confidence in the potential of India’s aviation market
“We are very confident in the growth story of the aviation industry. We see aviation in India and we see strong demand; we expect that to continue. We are here to stay,” he added.
Before joining Noida International Airport, Schnellmann worked for Swissport International, the world’s largest provider of ground handling and cargo handling services, with responsibility for the group’s operations at over 100 airports in Europe, Middle East and Africa region.
Schnellmann was also involved in the opening of Bangalore International Airport, India’s first public-private partnership airport, which opened in 2008. In 2013-15 he served Zurich Airport International on an assignment in Kazakhstan as chief operating officer of the Airport Management Group. Edited excerpts from the interview:
The government is looking to privatise several airports around the country. Will Jewar be the only airport that Zurich airport will be invested in?
We are following the privatisation process with great interest. We have been active as a group in India for almost 20 years. We started in Bengaluru with the planning and development phase. I think we have been doing business in India very successfully. The Bengaluru experience has given us the confidence for this project and India is very much a key market for the Zurich Airport group’s international ambitions.
So you could bid for some other airports or increase the portfolio of airports as you go along?
We will look at that. We will consider that. For us, India is a key market.
You exited the Bengaluru project. Will Zurich stay invested in India or is it just looking at it as an investment destination?
We see ourselves committed to developing and operating airport infrastructure in India. We see ourselves primarily as an airport operator and not as a financial investor. We are very confident in the growth story of the aviation industry. We see aviation in India and we see strong demand. We expect that to continue. We are here to stay.
Our commitment is to open the airport for operations three years after the formal beginning of the concession, which is September 30, 2024. That is the date we are working towards. It will have the capacity to serve 12 million passengers in a single runway configuration. We presented a master plan with a dual runway configuration.
By the time you start, Delhi Airport would have got its fourth runway. What impact will that have on your operations?
We remain confident in the demand…. In the growth of air passenger traffic in India. Over the next 40 years we expect demand for air travel in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) to triple from 70 million or so 210 million.
We are convinced that additional aviation infrastructure, additional airport infrastructure is necessary and will meet the demand that is there.
Zurich Airport has a 100 per cent stake in Jewar airport. Going forward will you look at divesting?
Currently there are no plans to divest or reduce the stake.
You mean through the 40 year concession period?
We see ourselves as airport developers and airport operators. This investment is for us an investment in an airport that we currently plan to continue to develop and operate throughout the duration of the concession. There are no other plans.
The Uttar Pradesh government is developing a number of airports. How do you see passenger differentiation between so many airports in one state?
I see this as another confirmation that air travel in India will continue to grow. We expect passenger numbers to continue to grow post-COVID at double-digit rates. We are not the only ones that feel India in general and UP specifically requires more airport infrastructure.
We all know that if UP was to be an independent country, I think it will be the sixth or seventh most populous nation. We fully agree that UP needs more airport infrastructure.
What will be the catchment area for Jewar airport?
The NCR is probably the largest or second-largest metropolitan area in world. We are now a sort of second international airport for Delhi and NCR. We are working very closely with the UP and Central governments not just to develop the airport but also provide access infrastructure by way of roads, metro and high- speed rail to provide accessibility to the airport.
We are convinced the catchment is there as part of the larger Delhi-NCR area, western UP certainly, also covering tourist destinations such as Agra and Mathura.