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Published on: Aug. 11, 2023, 12:31 p.m.
An elevated experience at Delhi airport

By Suman Tarafdar

Frequent flyers at Delhi airport feel, sometimes, that the taxiing time is longer than the flight! Or, that the flight takes inordinately long to land, often circling overhead. Well, as part of its phase three of airport expansion, an elevated taxiway, the first of its kind in India, has been inaugurated.

 “With Eastern Cross Taxiway (ECT), the Delhi Airport has become India’s first airport to have an elevated taxiway in the country, which will not only enhance passenger experience but also make Delhi Airport future-ready,” says I. Prabhakara Rao, deputy MD, GMR group. Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) is operated by the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), a consortium led by GMR Airports Infrastructure Ltd.

The Delhi airport, India’s largest airport, handles more than 1,500 aircraft movements every day. And, now that Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has inaugurated dual elevated Eastern Cross Taxiways and the fourth runway at the Delhi airport, the airport has four runways – RW 09/27, RW 11R/29L, RW 11L/29R and RW 10/28. The new taxiways are 2.1 km long, less than half the length of the longest two runways, which are 4.4 km each.

The taxiways, which connect the Northern and Southern airfields of the airport, can handle big aircraft including A-380 and B-777. The ECTs are designed to reduce taxiing distances for aircraft, reduce aircraft emissions and save natural resources, such as ATF, and enhance operational efficiency.

In 2022, Delhi’s IGA was the world’s ninth busiest airport by passenger traffic, according to Airports Council International (ACI) figures). The airport handled almost 59.5 million passengers and experts say the airport is already operating at capacity. According to DIAL, Delhi airport bettered its ranking from 13th in 2021 and 17th in 2019.

Less carbon footprint

Rao points out that the reduced distance that planes will have to travel will reduce fuel consumption, thereby reducing annual CO2 emissions by 55,000 tonnes per annum. He also points out that this is a significant step towards making Delhi airport reach ‘Net Zero’ emission by 2030.

It is estimated that about 350 kg of fuel will be saved every time an aircraft taxies through ECT from RWY 29R to Terminal 1 and vice-versa. This translates into a reduction of nearly 1,114 kg of CO2 emissions for each aircraft taxiing along this route. Additionally, DIAL is also following an environment-friendly approach in the construction of ECT by using 9,715 tonnes of fly ash, a waste product of coal-fired power plants, in the filling material.

The ECT has been constructed as part of Package 3 of Phase 3A Expansion Works. EPC Contractor L&T was awarded the contract for the entire Phase 3A Expansion Works, under which, besides the fourth runway, a bigger and integrated Terminal 1, a newly expanded T1 apron for aircraft parking, several new taxiways, and landside developments alongside a host of technological enhancements are in the offing. T1 is expected to launch in December this year, with the capacity doubling to 40 million passengers annually.

With purportedly the largest airport in the future coming up just 67 km away at Jewar, Delhi airport is looking to be ready to take on this future challenge. 

  • Artistic impression of the terminal

Elevated runways

While elevated runways have been there for a while – the first one came up in 1949 over the Van Wyck Expressway at Idlewild-Kennedy Airport, New York – they make for spectacular visual experiences. Planes passing over traffic command attention wherever they are, despite a number of airports now having elevated taxiways. As airports have needed to cater to an increasing number of passengers, they have expanded over existing infrastructure, often roads.

Of course, they are impressive feats of engineering in themselves and it was no surprise that busy airports have resorted to building them. LAX and Heathrow followed in 1953. Not to be outdone, Orly topped them within five years with the road tunnel not just under the taxiway, but also the main apron and the terminal building! Denver’s Stapleton Airport became the first to have a runway over an interstate highway, the I-70 in 1962, while the Toronto Pearson Airport built an island in the middle of the apron over the road tunnel.

The world’s busiest airport at the time, Chicago’s O’Hare, followed in 1966, while Sydney’s Mascot opened the year after (the first outside North America and Europe). Dallas/ Forth Airport opened in 1974 with four taxiways at once, while Singapore’s Changi and Hong Kong’s erstwhile Kai Tak airports opening elevated taxiways in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Delhi, and India have joined the bandwagon! 

  • Changi Airport taxiway bridge; Credit: uZRudd97

Elevated runway: Quick check

• The new taxiways are 2.1 km long and 202 m wide elevated dual-lane taxiway connecting the Northern and Southern airfields of IGI Airport, reducing taxi distance for aircraft by 7 km, according to the airport operator.

• The purpose of the ECT is to reduce taxiing distances for aircraft, reduce aircraft emissions and save natural resources such as ATF, and enhance operational efficiency.

• The taxiway is expected to optimise taxiing routes and aircraft operations, resulting in a reduction of about 55,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

• The 2.1-km-long dual-lane elevated Code F taxiways are capable of handling large aircraft and wide-body jets such as A380, B777, and B747-8.

• The Eastern Cross Taxiway will have two 44m wide lanes with a gap of 47m between them to allow safe and simultaneous passage of two big aircraft.

• The taxiway central spine structure is a massive monolithic structure comprising 590 girders – each weighing 90 tonnes – capable of maintaining structural integrity even in the case of an explosion of TNT/ RDX.

• The ECT central spine structure comprises 156 piers. It is supported by 590 girders, each weighing nearly 90 tonnes. The structure is designed to withstand explosions of TNT/ RDX. The structure designs are made in conformity to Seismic Zone IV and designs are vetted by IIT Mumbai.

• The bridges are designed to carry the weight of the heaviest aircraft, such as the Airbus A380/B777/B747s. Each of its two lanes would be 44 m wide with a gap of 47 m between them to allow safe simultaneous passage of two big aircraft. It will also have carriageways on both ends to allow emergency vehicles such as fire tenders and tow tractors to move.

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