Islamabad

Federal planning minister Ahsan Iqbal yesterday ordered aviation officials to speed up construction at New Islamabad International Airport (NIIA) and ordered an inquiry into previous delays.

The new airport in Attock, which was commissioned to ease congestion at Benazir Bhutto International, is due to be completed before the end of 2016 but the minister has moved early to warn officials any further delays in opening will not be tolerated.

Following a meeting with Civil Aviation Authority officials, the minister said that his government had inherited the project and taken it on despite earlier construction delays. Now it is committed to building a world class airport on time. “We are not only determined to complete the project in time but also bring best standards in facilities for the passengers,” he said.

The 3,289 acres airport just 20 kilometres from the capital was first proposed in the late 1980s but construction did not begin until 2008.Its initial cost projection of  Rs37 billion has since soared to Rs95 billion.

Poor road access and water shortages have been factors in delaying the project but both have since been addressed – construction on the Rama and Khasana dams has begun and is due for completion this summer. The minister has now insisted on clear deadlines for all airport link roads sought clear time lines, from the concerned departments, about the completion of link roads to the airport.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority a significant increase in land required for the project – from 294 to 483 acres – was a major factor in pushing up costs and causing additional delays.

One senior aviation official, who asked not to be named, told The Nation the cost of buying additional land increased from just under one million rupees per acre to almost ten million.

He believes the airport will not make its December deadline for opening and said its electricity supply lines are behind schedule and road construction targets have not been met.

“The main reason for the delay was the land requisition for the connecting roads and the water problems. Although these issues have been resolved I still don’t think that it will be fully- fledged operation by the stipulated December 2016 deadline,” he said.

Civil Aviation Authority Farah Shah last night insisted the new airport will open on schedule.

Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the new airport will boast international standard shopping arcades, cafes, and restaurants to attract transit passengers and a new shuttle service to Islamabad and Rawalpindi.