When work started on Delhi International Airport in 2006, sceptics said it would be impossible to finish in time for the Commonwealth Games, beginning September 2010. There was no local precedent for undertaking a project of such scale in so little time. Putting paid to doubts, its 4.43km runway was built in 18 months. The 34 million passengers per annum capacity terminal building was finished in 38 months. From start to finish the project took only 50 months to deliver.
The airport integrates international and domestic services, which previously operated from two remote terminal buildings, into a single state-of-the-art building. It enables Delhi to compete as an international hub airport.
Our involvement started when the Indian government invited private sector bids for improvement and operation of Delhi and Mumbai airports. Supporting the Delhi International Airport consortium led by GMR Infrastructure, we provided winning concept designs for both. GMR was awarded Delhi Airport and reappointed Mott MacDonald to produce a 30-year airport master plan and preliminary designs. We submitted the master plan within six months of contract start. Contractor Larson & Toubro began building the new runway only eight months after the air traffic forecast and master planning got under way.
Delivering Asia's longest runway
Delhi’s 4.43km runway is thought to be the longest in Asia. Length was needed because, simplistically, the hotter air gets, the thinner it becomes and the faster planes have to travel to develop lift for take-off and landing. Average temperature in Delhi is 42ºC. At opposite ends of the runway, a religious statue and new urban development stretched the runway further. To ensure that planes clear them safely, pilots have to land and take off at points 650m and 1400m from the ends of the runway.
Airfield design and construction were planned to achieve lowest environmental impact. Animals were relocated while each tree felled was replaced with 10 new saplings at a nearby site. Earthworks were carried out balancing cut and fill to avoid waste. Cement stabilisation was used to improve weak soils, avoiding use of imported material. Rainwater run-off is collected in wells and used to recharge Delhi’s aquifer. The airport contributes more water to the aquifer than it uses.
21st century passenger terminal
International best practices in design and operation have been applied to the new terminal building, helping to maximise operational efficiency. Meeting fast turnaround times and optimising utilisation of the airport is assisted by state-of-the-art airport IT systems. Introducing these systems required a major change management programme as they were new to the aviation industry in India. We supported our client by providing staff training in latest working practices and procedures.
The building was designed with a long central core flanked by piers on either side. Domestic and international flights have separate and very distinct peak hour profiles which means that, at different times, the central piers can be used by either domestic or international aircraft. Delhi International Airport has the largest and most advanced automated baggage systems in India, capable of handling 12,800 bags per hour.
Energy use and carbon emissions have been limited by designing a full height ‘canyon’, bringing daylight to the centre of the building. The façade has been designed to provide shading, limiting solar heat gain and so minimising cooling load. Cooling is provided by small air handling units rather than a conventional centralised cooling plant. This mechanical and electrical design strategy recognises the local availability of plant, spares and technical skills and will help with long-term mechanical and electrical maintenance. Variable speed fans in the air conditioning units respond to demand, saving energy.