Jewar airport is about creating a whole new market: Christoph Schnellmann

Christoph Schnellmann, Chief Executive Officer, Delhi Noida International Airport
Christoph Schnellmann of Zurich Airport, who is CEO of Delhi Noida International Airport, has the challenging task of building a new greenfield airport at Jewar. Outlining the plan for the new airport, he tells Arindam Majumder that he is confident the growth of air traffic in India will soon be back on track. Edited excerpts:

Considering that there is a well-established airport less than 70 km away, how will this new greenfield airport be viable?

The prospect of this new airport is very strong. Delhi is one of the largest metropolitans in the world. While air passenger growth has been astronomical, it is still served by one airport. Passenger growth will triple in the next 40 years. So we see a strong demand for a new airport in this region.

Delhi Airport is also increasing its capacity, and building a new terminal and runway. So, if the existing airport is not saturated, why will airlines spill over to your airport?

We are aware of the conscious efforts of the developmental activity at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. The overlapping catchment area between the existing airport and our airport will be narrow. We have our new catchment area and will be looking to open up new markets. So while your question is valid, it is not so much about spillover but more about creating a whole new market.

Also, as I told you, we expect the passenger growth to triple. Hence, we are convinced about the necessity of additional infrastructure for a city of Delhi’s size.

What will the new airport’s focus area be? Will it be domestic traffic or international?

We are building an international, world-class airport and we believe that we have a lot to offer for the National Capital Region (NCR). We will bring in a mix of Indian hospitality and Swiss efficiency of smooth, seamless travel. We believe that the initial demand will be primarily from domestic market and so we are designing the process for domestic traffic for the NCR catchment area. Ninety cent of the air traffic in the initial years will be domestic. We want to build it as a domestic hub, as we have got strong signals that there will be a strong demand.

The impact of the pandemic has been severe on the aviation sector. How has it impacted your traffic projection, which was done in the pre-Covid period?

Certainly Covid has hit the sector very hard. But we are fully confident about the resilience of the Indian economy and the growth of aviation in India. We are here today to invest Rs 4,500 crore to develop this infrastructure for the country. 

While Phase 1 will have a single runway, by Phase 4 we will have a dual runway system. But the second runway will be built as soon as it is required.

How do you plan to finance this airport?

We will fund it through a mix of Swiss franc and Indian currency. Zurich International Airport will provide 100 per cent equity in Swiss Franc and we are in advanced talks with lenders to finance the second part of this investment.

What is your communication to the government?

We are highly appreciative of the steps of the Uttar Pradesh and Indian governments for aviation. We believe the new Noida International Airport will receive similar treatment as the Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Will you look for a strategic partner for this project?

Currently we are not looking for an equity partner. We have wide experience in developing airports of this nature and size. We operate one of the leading airports in the world and have the experience of Bengaluru. That gives us the confidence that we can develop this project alone. However, it could be that we join hands with a financial investor at a later stage.

There is an apprehension that the airport isn’t connected well with Delhi. What assurance have you got from the government on that?

Connectivity is certainly a very important aspect for the viability of an airport. We have come to the conclusion that being directly on the expressway, the airport site is well-connected. We are looking for further connectivity. Bear in mind that there is large concentration of travelling public in Delhi, but with this project, we are also unlocking the potential of broader catchment area in Noida, Greater Noida and western Uttar Pradesh.

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