GREATER NOIDA: “I’ll be back.” Like neighbouring Austria-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, Flughafen Zurich AG (FZ) said as much while exiting Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), where it had 17% stake, in early 2017. True to its word, it is back here with a bang in less than three years — it is likely to build and operate the Jewar airport.
The operator, known for Swiss clockwork-precision operation at its flagship Zurich Airport, has also learnt from the Bengaluru experience that keeping local sensitivities is crucial. At the start of this Millennium when Karnataka decided to build one of India’s first greenfield public-private partnership airport in Bengaluru, Siemens Projects and FZ together had majority stake in Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL).
They built a no-frills airport in Bengaluru — unlike the contemporary more ornamental Hyderabad and later-built Delhi’s T3 or the fanciest of all, Mumbai T2 — which passengers could quickly enter and exit. But the international developers did not build a VIP terminal, which did not go down well with then undivided Andhra MLAs and ministers. A VIP lounge was added much later.
In 2009, FZ first sold 12% stake in BIAL to GVK Group. Then in 2017, it sold the remaining 5% to Indo-Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa’s Fairfax India Holdings. At that time, FZ had said: “Zurich Airport remains committed to the Indian aviation market and will actively consider new investment opportunities where our local experience and recognised international airport operator expertise can generate a significant impact. India remains one of Zurich Airport’s selected strategic investment markets.”
Apart from Zurich, FZ operates eight airports in Latin America and describes India, Indonesia and the Philippines as “future focus markets.”
Daniel Bircher, CEO of Zurich Airport (Asia operations), told TOI: “We see India as a huge upcoming market with great potential. Jewar airport will be able to cater to the huge crowd of Delhi as well as UP. Additionally, Noida and Greater Noida are developing as big industrial hubs and will be a huge catchment area requiring air connectivity soon.”
Bircher added, “It is too early to mention the plans for construction and features or services that will be available. However, customer satisfaction has always been our top priority.”
Asked why did they not round off their bid of Rs 400.97 to Rs 401 — none of the three other bidders had quoted in decimals — he said, “The decimal number was not a calculation. It was just a personal wish of one of our directors.” Among the four bidders, this was only group that is investing 100% foreign equity with no Indian partners.
Interestingly, that potentially leaves the door open for other players in future to buy stake in Greater Noida airport — just like FZ divested in BIAL.
“The company has an experience of operating multiple airports across the world,” the CEO said. The group is currently operating the Zurich airport in Switzerland, Curaçao International airport in Caribbean Islands, Bogota airport in Columbia, two airports in Chile, including Iquique and Antofagasta, and four airports in Brazil.