South Asia

All change at Delhi's gleaming new airport

Anyone who has ever travelled to India will know that arriving at an Indian airport can be a daunting experience, particularly for first-time visitors.

It typically meant arriving in the early hours of the morning at a congested, mosquito-infested terminal building with leaky roofs, dirty toilets and long queues.

Once outside, finding a taxi or a hotel could often involve a harrowing struggle with touts jostling for attention.

All that is now set to change.

Inside Delhi airport's gleaming new Terminal 3 (T3) there is a frenzy of activity as workers put up signs, polish the shining granite floor and check to make sure everything is in order.

The first impression you get as you walk in is the tremendous sense of scale.

At just a little over 500,000 sq m, this is one of the world's largest terminals, just behind Hong Kong and Bangkok and ahead of Madrid's T4 and Heathrow's T5.

Save on energy

It is geared to handle 34 million passengers per year - more than Singapore's Changi airport.

The nine-level glass and steel structure is also built to allow maximum natural light but without letting in the heat and, therefore, save on energy use.

Passengers can check in for both international and domestic flights within India before heading into a large waiting area with shops, restaurants, bars, lounges and business centres.

There is even a 100-room hotel inside the terminal for passengers to nap or take a shower while waiting for their flight.

Aircraft will dock at one of the numerous gates built along giant piers which are more than a kilometre in length from one end to the other.

Special gates have been built to accommodate the world's largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus 380.

Once the terminal opens, it will handle all of Delhi's international flights and most internal ones.

But while it may resemble any other international airport, there has been an attempt to give it distinctive Indian touches.

International passengers queuing up at passport control will be confronted with an installation of sculpted hands set against copper plates depicting classical Indian dance poses.

At duty free, travellers can browse through the "Delhi Bazaar" - which replicates the experience of shopping at a traditional Indian market.

Like most international airports, security is a major concern at T3.

Apart from X-ray machines and bomb scanning equipment, some 3,000 cameras will keep a close watch on proceedings.

Image caption Sculpted hands set against copper plates depict classical Indian dance

Inside the Airports Operation Control Centre, a giant video wall with 28 display monitors will feed images from the live CCTV cameras.

All this was built in just three years and at a cost of just under $3bn.

In contrast, Heathrow's T5 took five years to build at double the expense.

With just days to go before the airport's formal opening by the Indian prime minister, there is an air of anticipation.

Groups of airport personnel are being trained and familiarised with its extensive facilities by experts brought in from Germany.

The hope is that when the terminal opens, it will be a welcome, pleasant experience for visitors and be an appropriate symbol of the new, modern India.

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