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Flughafen Zurich returns as preferred bidder for new Delhi airport

Analysis

Flughafen Zurich AG has been selected as the preferred bidder for a 40-year concession to design, develop and operate the Jewar Noida International Airport in India, the second airport for the capital city, Delhi.

The new airport will be located around 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Delhi and will be fundamental to accommodate the expected flight traffic growth rates in the National Capital Region.

How it will operate in conjunction with the existing Indira Gandhi International Airport is not yet known.

Summary

  • Flughafen Zurich selected as preferred bidder for New Greater Delhi Noida/Jewar Airport
  • GMR did not take up its first option on the greenfield site
  • Flughafen Zurich’s recent focus has been elsewhere
  • In Delhi’s foggy atmosphere environmental considerations are critical

As with many Indian airport projects, timescales have been elastic

Officially the New Greater Delhi Noida/Jewar Airport it will provide the NCR with a second facility after Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The plans for the airport were approved by India's Aviation Ministry in Jun-2015 under the auspices of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Development Corporation (DMICDC) which undertook the foundation work, the responsibility latterly falling to the Yamuna Expressway Industrial Development Authority.

Land clearances, as with many other Indian airport projects, have been an issue.

GMR did not take up its first option on the airport

The facility required a 2200-acre site (of which 2063 have been acquired) and construction was expected to take three to four years; a timescale that has since stretched to the end of 2022 and now beyond that, with actual construction work expected to commence in 1H2020. The location also required amendment of regulations preventing the establishment of a new airport within 150km of an existing facility. GMR Group held the first right of refusal for any new airport in Delhi but did not take it up.

However, GMR reappeared as an interested party along with the aggressive Adani Group, Airports Authority of India (AAI), Fairfax Holdings, Larsen &Toubro, Reliance Infra, Flughafen Zurich and eight others after the tender process began in Apr-2018, with a deadline of 30-Oct-2019. The project at this stage is around a year behind schedule.

According to Flughafen Zurich, capital investments associated with the project’s first phase are expected to require around CHF650 million (EUR591.1 million) during the construction period of approximately four years, enabling the airport to accommodate around 12 million passengers per annum.

The company currently holds 100% of the project and stated it aims to "implement its best practices developed in Switzerland while maintaining the local Indian values", the sort of generic statement that is often made in such circumstances but which can be difficult to adhere to.

Besides necessary capital investments in infrastructure, Flughafen Zurich AG will pay a fixed passenger fee to the state-owned authority starting on the sixth anniversary of the commissioning of the new airport.

Flughafen Zurich previously quit India in 2017

This transaction, once concluded, marks the return of Flughafen Zurich to India, a country that it quit in 2017 following the sale of its remaining shares (5%) in the airport in Bengaluru (Kempegowda International Airport) in 2017, to Fairfax Holdings. Prior to that, it had sold a 12% share to GVK in 2009.

Its focus has shifted to Latin America

Flughafen Zürich has always regarded India as a focus market for the company but latterly, as the map below reveals, its actual focus has drifted to Latin America, where it is active as concessionaire or manager in Chile, Colombia, the Dutch Antilles and particularly Brazil, with concessions at Belo Horizonte, Florianopólis, Vitoria Eurico Sales and Macae airports.

As with some of the other concessionaires in Brazil, Flughafen Zurich has experienced some problems. In its case, the proposal to improve another airport in Belo Horizonte where Flughafen Zurich is a joint concessionaire at the Tancredo Neves airport. Collectively, these problems suggest this return to India might be timely.

Active airports for Flughafen Zurich

Besides India, countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines are among the future focus markets for the company.

Two questions remain unanswered:

1. Will it just be a reliever airport? Or more?

Firstly, how will the airport be developed in conjunction with the existing Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport, where there has been a considerable capital investment in recent years? That airport, with almost 70 million passengers in 2018, is on a similar scale to the likes of Istanbul and Beijing, where different methods have been applied to balance traffic. In Beijing’s case, traffic is already transferring to the new Daxing Airport and a position of equilibrium should eventually be reached there. In Istanbul, the old airport was closed once the new one opened, allowing for a short transition period (although there is a smaller, privately operated one as well).

Separately, in Sydney, what was originally envisaged as a small reliever airport to the main one, the Western Sydney Airport, is now expected to handle ultimately 80 million passengers a year, from all business models having originally been earmarked for no more than 2-3 million ppa.

It would help to know how this airport fits into the overall scheme in India.

2. How important are environmental considerations?

Secondly, and bearing in mind the dense smog which has engulfed Delhi recently, causing severe flight disruptions, what environmental clauses if any have been written into the concession contract?

The award decision comes as India prepares to privatise more airports following a lull after 2006 which only ended in Nov-2018, when the cabinet approved the privatisation of six operational airports, later reducing to three following a change of government.

AAI will privatise more airports

Airports Authority of India (AAI) has now submitted a recommendation to India's Ministry of Civil Aviation to privatise partially six additional AAI airports - Tiruchirappalli Airport, Bhubaneswar Biju Patnaik Airport, Amritsar Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee Airport, Raipur Swami Vivekananda Airport, Indore Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport and Varanasi Airport.

It is understood that the Central government is set to start the third round of privatisation of airports and that AAI will, within Dec-2019, divulge a list of around 25 airports that can be privatised.

AAI has appointed two consultants who will identify the airports that could best attract private investment.

(Please also see a previous article on this airport [Jul-2019])

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