GMR Airports Limited is doing all it can to meet the rapid growth in India’s passenger traffic as well as bringing its experience in this unique market to the rest of the world
GMR Airports Limited (GAL), a subsidiary of Indian infrastructure firm GMR Group, recently won a concession to develop, operate and manage a greenfield airport at Mopa in North Goa, India. The company has submitted its masterplan for GMR Goa International Airport Limited (GGIAL) with involvement from Satyaki Raghunath (left), the new chief research and development officer. Work is set to begin on the project once the relevant government and authorities have made their comments and the project has received financial closure. It is estimated that the construction and delivery phase will begin in the next two to three years.
In his new position with GAL, Raghunath is in charge of developing transformative ideas, capacity planning, passenger experience, and building institutional relationships across the GMR Airport portfolio.
Raghunath was no stranger to GAL’s work before becoming a direct employee of the company in November 2016, having completed between 30 and 40 assignments with them in one of his previous roles at consulting firm LeighFisher, where he operated as the managing director for Asia.
These assignments involved GAL’s current airport assets, including Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) and New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), since the company won concessions for them through India’s private public partnership (PPP) process in 2004 and 2006 respectively.
Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi
Both airports have come a long way since GAL took over operations in 2004 and 2006 respectively. New Delhi started out with annual traffic of approximately 13 million passengers each year and had separate domestic and international terminal complexes at opposite ends of the airport – not ideal for transfers.
In just 36 months, Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL), the consortium responsible for operating IGIA, delivered a new runway capable of handling Code F aircraft and a new 550,000m² (ft2) terminal which could cater to an additional 36 million passengers. Raghunath estimates that in 2016, the airport handled approximately 55 million passengers.
DIAL has now completed an update of the masterplan for IGIA, which will begin with Phase 3A. This will involve reconfiguration of the airport’s domestic terminals, and development of new airside infrastructure and additional terminal, and landside and support facility infrastructure. In addition, GAL is also working to improve IGIA’s airfield and airspace capacity. Eventually, the company expects IGIA to handle well over 100 million passengers each year.
Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad
Hyderabad’s RGIA has also seen exponential growth over the past few years. As a greenfield airport, RGIA offered a clean slate on which GAL could implement its ideal vision. Raghunath estimates that Hyderabad handled approximately 14 million passengers in 2016 and predicts that this could grow to as much as 30-35 million passengers per annum in the near future. He is also currently undertaking a review of the masterplan for the airport, focusing on the south side of the airport and maximizing the use of the south runway.
In the longer-term, GAL will examine options for the development of the wider airport campus to enable RGIA to handle up to 80 million passengers using its two-runway system over the next 25-30 years. These numbers may seem extortionate, but not when you consider the rate at which passenger numbers are growing in the country.
“In 2001, the total number of passengers in India who traveled by air was about 13 million, while Indian railways handled 13 million passengers every day,” explains Raghunath. “This year, we’re at just under 200 million [aviation] passengers. At the moment, we’re growing by approximately 20% year-on-year.” He partly attributes this to the entrance of low-cost carriers to India in 2006/2007.
Interestingly, Raghunath says India has now achieved what the Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha described as ‘rail parity’. In other words, the fare for an air ticket is more or less comparable to an upper-class rail ticket. With India expected to become the third largest aviation market in the world within the next decade, it’s a game-changer.
With this in mind, it’s important that the standards achieved by GAL in its airports are sustained. “The thing that’s been very gratifying to us has been that when we deliver these projects, even as our airports have grown, we’ve continued maintaining our levels of service. It’s not the case that as traffic grows, the standards are dropping,” adds Raghunath.
In 2014 and 2015, New Delhi won first place in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Awards for ‘Best Airport by Size: 25-40 Million Passengers’, having previously won second place in the category during 2011 and 2012. Hyderabad has fluctuated between second and third place in the ‘Best Airport by Size: 5-15 Million Passengers’ category since 2011.
Raghunath feels this is due to the fact that the concession agreements in India set very high standards in terms of levels of service. “It’s a good thing because it invariably means we end up delivering a standard much better than what’s specified because we have to deliver greater capacity due to the huge traffic growth rate in India.”
In December 2013, GAL won a concession for Mactan Cebu International Airport in the Philippines in partnership with Philippines-based Megawide Construction Corporation, forming the consortium GMR Megawide.
“We’re in the process of a major international terminal development and expansion at Cebu, which will eventually cater to eight million passengers each year,” Raghunath confirms. “These projects are expected to be substantially completed over the next two years. We will then evaluate the wider development of the airport to meet long-term demand.”
Right: Design rendering of the new terminal at Mactan Cebu International Airport
Prior to this, GAL also won a concession to develop Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen Airport in Turkey, which it divested in 2014, and another concession to develop what was known at the time as Nasir International Airport in Male in the Maldives, which was wrongfully terminated by the Maldives government in 2012. GAL eventually received significant compensation for the project through an arbitration process overseen by the International Court of Justice.
More recently, GAL formed a consortium with GEK Terna Group of Greece to bid for the development, operation and management of a new International Airport in Heraklion, Crete. The company is waiting to hear if it has won the new concession.
“We are always on the lookout for opportunities both in India and internationally. We evaluate every opportunity on a case-by-case basis, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we bid for other airports over the next few years,” Raghunath concludes.
Written by Stephanie Taylor
February 2, 2017