Ian Sheppard/OSLO

With environmental issues more pertinent than ever, it will not be a moment too soon for Oslo's population when its Fornebu Airport closes on 8 October. Operations will be switched overnight to Gardermoen, Norway's new NKr21 billion ($2.8 billion) flagship airport, 47km (29 miles) north of the capital. Gardermoen proudly boasts that it is "-the last new international airport to open in Europe this millennium".

Fornebu has reached capacity, says Knut Staebak, manager of traffic development for airport manager Oslo Lufthavn (OSL). "It is very packed and cramped," he says - it has exceeded its 9.5 million capacity, with well over 10 million passengers in 1997. In addition, the largest aircraft which can be used at Fornebu is the Boeing 767, whereas Gardermoen has periodically seen Northwest Airlines Boeing 747s, and Copenhagen-based charter operator Premiair uses its McDonnell Douglas DC-10s there.


Gardermoen, development of which started in 1993, will keep its incumbent Norwegian air force presence in the shape of a new base to the north of the 13km2 (5 miles2) site for its squadron of five Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules, which do "mainly United Nations work".

The old runway was closed for resurfacing on 1 January, and is being extended to 3,500m (11,500ft), with existing operators using the new 2,950m parallel runway 2,100m to the east. This separation will allow simultaneous operation 24h a day from 1 July, when the first aircraft will use the resurfaced runway, says Staebak. Fornebu has one long runway and is limited to 07:00-23:00 opening. Total runway capacity will be "more than 80 movements an hour", although a peak of 50 an hour is expected at first.

The new terminal, situated between the two runways, is based on the "Atlanta model" (the airport at Atlanta, Georgia, was the first to use parallel piers) and has a capacity of 18 million passengers a year, a figure not expected to be reached until 2015. Staebak says that "-12-13 million are expected in 1999". Pier A is complete, while Pier B is likely to be added in around 2002 for "non-Schengen" traffic - Norway is considering becoming a signatory to the Schengen agreement, joining the subset of European Union countries which allows unrestricted movement within its borders. The original plan had been to add Pier B in around 2005 but, as growth outstripped expectations at Fornebu, the plans had to be revised, but did not incur an addition cost. It will "probably" have only eight gates at first, says Staebak, whereas Pier A has 34 stands, expandable to 52.

An express-rail link between the airport and Oslo's central station will take only 19min, although Staebak says that the airport expects to attract far more international traffic which will fly on to other destinations in Europe. Flooding in an ambitious 14km-long tunnelling project at the Oslo end of the link is still causing problems, but OSL remains confident that the date of the opening will not slip.

Braathens SAFE will move its base to the new airport, although its technical centre will remain in Stavanger, on the south coast, while SAS has already constructed significant new 20,000m2 (215,300ft2) premises at the site. Anders Fougli, Braathens director of planning, says of the airport's effect on the airline: "It is more a question of our role in the KLM-Northwest feeder network-on the other hand, it does give us more opportunities." For example, he says, services to Amsterdam Schiphol are likely to increase in frequency from four to "six or seven" a day.


Fougli believes that Gardermoen will be the main airport serving western Sweden, effectively a "new market" for Braathens, while the rail catchment area serves a population of 2 million. Fougli is concerned, however, that a new Norwegian environmental tax on seats operated, intended to force operators to use smaller aircraft, is "a really big headache". Braathens is likely to be hardest hit when the tax becomes law in April. At Fornebu, which handled 53% of domestic traffic in 1997, Braathens accounts for 51% and SAS for 31% of the passengers, although Staebak says that this is fast approaching 50:50, with "a surprisingly high proportion of business travellers". This is what prompted Ryanair to start operating to Norway, to Torp Airport, outside Oslo, as it saw unfulfilled demand from "leisure travellers".

SAS Commuter and Widerøe, in which SAS acquired a controlling stake in November 1997 - foiling Braathens' ambitions - will have their own areas at the airport. SAS had plenty of time to plan its involvement, says Staebak, as the idea for an international airport at Gardermoen was first mooted in 1968. The Scandinavian airline has been involved with much of the construction and will occupy some of its buildings on 20-year leases. It was not until 8 October, 1992, that the Norwegian Government finally signalled the go-ahead, however, and the target was set to open the airport six years later to the day.

Although the Norwegian civil-aviation authority owns Gardermoen, through OSL, it is "effectively a private venture", says Staebak, and could be floated. Loans and share capital for the project are to be paid back over the next 30 years through the "generation of new capital".

The old airport terminal is being developed for "business and VIP traffic", but the general-aviation (GA) element is being forced out. "The 50,000 annual touch-and-gos have to go," says Staebak, who adds that the CAA has had "no success yet" in finding an alternative GA field. Floatplanes, which frequent the waters next to Fornebu, will also have to leave, although most are "-amphibians which could be accommodated in the harbour", says Staebak.

Gardermoen is likely to give Norway significant bargaining power in attracting traffic which would otherwise use Scandinavia's main hub at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport, although Arlanda has other worries, including absorbing 20% passenger growth in the Baltic Sea region.



Sweden is due to make "political decisions" affecting the airport in April, having been warned by the Ingemar Skogö, director-general of Arlanda's operator, LFV, that it will be in deep financial trouble without Government support measures. Skogö cites the end of tax-free sales in Europe by 1999, Sweden's becoming a Schengen signatory and the cost of adding the proposed third runway, which, if approved would become operational by 2002.

LFV disputes any threat from Gardermoen, which it believes will have a "marginal effect on traffic development" at Arlanda. The authority cites Delta Air Lines' decision to move its regional office to Stockholm from Copenhagen as evidence of its growing status as the region's international hub, and says: "We are even seeing increased demand from the Far East and Asia." Fougli, however, believes that, with the possibility of Northwest operating from Minneapolis to Gardermoen, the airport is in ance of "rivalling Stockholm".


To feed Gardermoen, Braathens is co-operating with smaller carriers such as British Aerospace Jetstream 31 operator Coast Air, says Fougli. Meanwhile, the carrier is expecting to take delivery of the first of six Boeing 737-700s from International Lease Finance in March, and will receive others later this year. Braathens will progressively replace the leased -700s with aircraft ordered from Boeing.

Staebak says that Gardermoen will target mainly charter traffic, although he admits that the growing KLM-Northwest connection is good news for the airport. With the Star Alliance now having a presence in the region through SAS, British Airways' recent tie-up with Finnair and, finally, Delta, Staebak is confident, saying: "There is more competition for SAS now."




Source: Flight International