New airport to embellish as ‘regional hub’

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The new Chinggis Khaan International Airport built at Khushig Valley in Tuv Province opened on July 4, with an inaugural flight to Tokyo operated by MIAT Mongolian Airlines with a Boeing 737 aircraft. New Ulaanbaatar International Airport (NUIA) LLC, which is running the new airport, boasted that the airport could be considered “the largest development in the Mongolian history of the last century” and is striving to become a “regional hub” for tourism.

There were several announcements of its opening, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions for nearly two years. 

The project, which was carried out from scratch in a vacant area, seems to have taken a long time, but the main construction work took only three years.

It was not easy to build a new international airport that would meet international standards and play a huge role in the future of Mongolia’s infrastructure and economic development, says the project executors.

First of all, it was very important to find financial resources, and from 2006 to 2007, Mongolia and Japan made an agreement to implement the project with a 40-year soft loan from the Japanese government. Once the design was completed, the contractors were selected through three tenders from 2008 to 2013.

The airport is now managed by NUIA, which will take charge of the airport’s operations for the next 15 years. It was formed as a partnership between two companies: Japan Airport Management LLC (owned by Mitsubishi Corporation, Narita International Airport Corporation, Japan Airport Terminal, and JALUX), and while Khushigiin Khundii Airport, funded by the government of Mongolia. The former holds 51 percent of NUIA, while the latter owns a 49 percent stake. JALUX manages the airport’s retail business. The new airport was constructed by a joint venture of Mitsubishi Corporation and Chiyoda Corporation.

Let’s take a closer look at this massive development project, which required a hefty sum of money, effort and time to complete.

NEW AIRPORT IS 1.5 TIMES LARGER THAN PREVIOUS ONE

Chinggis Khaan International Airport differs from the old airport, now known as Buyant Ukhaa International Airport, in several ways.

The construction of the airport, which was originally planned to cost about 250 million USD, ended up costing 650 million USD. It seems all parties involved in the project were interested in building a large, high-efficiency airport that would be operational for a long time. Therefore, the number of facilities, which was estimated at some 20 in the original project plan, increased to 80, enlarging the scale of the project.

The airport comprises 30 key facilities, including the main building, a three-story 37,000-square-meter passenger terminal, an air traffic control tower, and a runway measuring 3,600 meters in length and 45 meters in width. It also has a storage with the capacity to hold 24 aircrafts, a cargo terminal with a capacity of 11,900 tons of cargo per year, fire station with international C9 rating, thermal power plants, power grid substructures, and a sewage treatment plant.

The airport features a large fuel storage facility built with the world’s latest technology that can refuel airplanes in a short period of time. It is considered to be a key part of the airport quality service. Experts believe that it can help increase the number of transit flights and reduce ticket prices. It is estimated that as the number of passengers grows, the high price of fuel will decrease on a competitive basis.

Overall, the new airport covers 1.5 times larger area than the old one, and has twice higher capacity. While the Buyant Ukhaa airport can receive a maximum of 1.5 million passengers per year, the new Chinggis Khaan airport is capable of handling approximately 3 million passengers a year.

The previous airport can park 330 aircrafts at once, but the new airport has around 830 parking spaces in addition to a heated garage and public transportation service. In particular, bus lanes and bus stops were specially designed for the project to facilitate public transportation services.

NUIA has classified Chinggis Khaan airport as a “Public-3:0 class” airport that provides one-stop shop for passengers. In addition to flight services, passengers are able to dine, relax and receive other necessary services at the airport. The old airport is classified as “Public-1:0” as it provides airport services only.

Compared to the old airport, the new airport is unique in its innovative design and decoration. Officials said that they wanted to incorporate the traditional Mongolian style in the airport design. In particular, the walls and some parts of the airport were decorated with Mongolian patterns, such as Ulzii Khee, often referred to as the “Endless Knot”.

Moreover, Buyant Ukhaa airport has no special luggage packing section, but the new one has set up its Packaging Section next to the local flight check-in. This makes it easier for passengers to pack their luggage and avoid causing problems.

THE AIRPORT IS ‘HUMAN-FRIENDLY’

Upon entering the airport through the main entrance on the second floor, there is a local flight check-in desk on the right and an international flight check-in desk on the left. The second floor is used for both international and domestic flights.

Flight registration is conducted through a total of 26 check-in desks. The airport staff shared plans to introduce automated check-in services so that passengers can register themselves. This will make it easier for passengers to book flights. 

Starting from trash bins placed throughout the airport and large facilities, everything at the airport is environmentally friendly and human-friendly and satisfies international standards, according to NUIA. In other words, it provides maximum comfort to passengers, the company said.

For instance, there was a passenger information point in the main area on the second floor. At this point, strollers and wheelchairs were available. There are special tactile tiles for the visually impaired leading them to the information point. Currency exchange booths, banks, branches of local telecommunication operators, shops and restaurants are also available on the second floor.

After passing through the international flight check-in area, passengers will get to the border checkpoint and then to duty-free shops and stores of national manufacturers. The ceiling of its hall is designed to reflect natural light during the day. The ceiling is made of wood and saves 50 percent of electricity during the day, according to NUIA.

In general, the second floor is for outgoing passengers and the first floor is for incoming passengers and people coming to pick up passengers from international and domestic terminals.

There is a luggage storage area at the entrance of the first floor, which charges 10,000 MNT per service. Next to it, you can find the Lost and Found and Car Rental Service sections. The car rental service, which is being introduced in Mongolia for the first time, has not yet been launched due to the COVID-19 pandemic and small number of customers.

OPENING NEW OPPORTUNITIES

The authorities said that we can now go through with the plan to build and develop a satellite city, which was discussed for many years but is yet to materialize, thanks to the new airport.

If a new city is built next to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport, it will most likely play a major role in Ulaanbaatar’s decentralization plan. All kinds of business can flourish in this city. Based on preliminary estimations, the new city in Khushig Valley will be able to accommodate a population of around 50,000 people, which could increase to around 100,000 people in the future. The authorities have already conducted relevant studies and made estimations for the new city, and major projects are already underway.

Due to emerging issues related to Ulaanbaatar’s population growth and development, Mongolia has been focusing on long-term plans for the development of satellite cities. In connection with decentralizing the city population, reducing air pollution, developing tourism and commissioning of the new airport, the city authorities are planning to develop Aero, Zuunmod and Maidar cities as satellite cities. 

Initially, the airport will employ about 2,500 people, including employees of air carriers and civil aviation organizations. Now that the airport is operational, a brand new airport-based city is expected to be built soon in Khushig Valley. It is estimated that it would take 20 years to build schools, kindergartens, industries, service centers, hospitals, and sports complexes in this valley and turn it into a free zone city.

With this new airport and new settlement, many new services and products will be created as more business opportunities open up. The satellite city will undoubtedly expand in a short period of time. This is a long-awaited opportunity for those who want to escape the overcrowded capital. Mongolia’s first 32-kilometer, six-lane highway connecting Ulaanbaatar and the new airport has been commissioned, and public transportation services are available for four directions from the airport for starters.

The new international airport is expected to contribute to the development of tourism and transport and logistics services. Mongolia’s top engineers and managers were involved at every stage of this “major project of the century”, which aims to become a regional hub in the long run. Therefore, it is necessary to boost the efficiency and return of this development and accelerate the economy. The Mongolian side is also obligated to ensure profitable airport operations and repay the 40-year loan on time.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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