Passenger trials have begun at the new Hyderabad International Airport in south-central India ahead of its planned opening in mid-March.

Chairman of majority owner GMR Group’s airports business unit, Kiran Kumar Grandhi, said in an interview at the new-airport site that trials began last month. They began with employees and this month were extended to include members of the public. Every Tuesday and Thursday mock check-ins are held involving 100 people to test systems.

Construction is meanwhile continuing and is now 86% complete. GMR, which also leads a consortium that runs the Indian capital Delhi’s airport, says work is on schedule for end-November completion.

Flight trials should begin in February to enable the airport to be ready for its March opening. Grandhi adds that 16 March has been tentatively set as the date for the start of commercial operations.

“We have communicated to the Government and made a presentation that we feel March 16, a Sunday, is the date for opening, for shifting the airport,” he says.

An overnight move is planned and Munich Airport has been working with the new Hyderabad airport, which will officially be known as Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, since January in preparation for the shift.

The all-new airport is being built to replace the IT centre of Hyderabad’s existing airport, which is at capacity and which cannot be expanded.

State-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI) operates the existing airport but the new facility has been built through a government-private sector partnership.

Energy and infrastructure group GMR has 63% of the joint venture behind the new airport. Malaysia Airports Holdings has 11% while AAI and the Government of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have 13% each.

Air traffic in India has been growing at rapid rates as new airlines have launched services in recent years and foreign carriers have been given more rights to serve the country.

Construction on the new Hyderabad airport began in March 2005 and initial plans called for it to have a design capacity of five million passengers. This was later increased to seven million and again to 12 million.

Grandhi says second-phase expansion will begin before passenger throughput reaches 12 million, which is expected around 2011 or 2012, increasing capacity to 20 million passengers annually.

Further expansion will include the construction of a second runway and passenger terminal building giving the airport an ultimate annual handling capacity of 40 million or more passengers.

The new airport is being built at a project cost of Rs24.78 billion ($629 million) and it will open with a single runway 4,260m (13,975ft) in length and capable of handling the Airbus A380. There is also a parallel taxiway of the same length that can be used as an emergency runway.

The existing airport handled just under six million passengers in the fiscal year to 31 March 2007, having increased from just under one million in 2001 and representing growth of 43% over the 2005/6 fiscal year.

Twenty airlines currently serve it and Grandhi says additional airlines are expected to be customers of the new airport.

“The existing customers may also want to go to bigger aircraft,” he adds, as the current airport cannot handle Boeing 747-size aircraft.

“Today they are doing [Airbus] A330s, [Boeing] 777s, but they may go for much bigger aircraft, bigger 777s or 747s. Lufthansa is considering it, KLM is considering it and many other airlines are considering it,” he says, adding that the intention is to also make the new airport a transit hub for both passengers and cargo.

Grandhi says cargo is a key focus for the new airport and he expects large freighter operators will become customers. Only express-freight carriers serve the existing airport.

In the last financial year the existing airport handled 46,000t of freight but the new airport will initially be able to handle 100,000t per year, with room for expansion to one million tonnes.

The GMR-led consortium has a 30-year concession over the new airport with an option for a 30-year extension. The existing airport will close to commercial traffic once the new facility opens in March.

New roads are meanwhile being constructed to the new airport, which is further away from the city centre than the existing facility, while existing roads are being widened. A proposal is also under consideration for a dedicated rail link to and from the city centre.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news