Norway’s gateway airport, OSL Gardermoen, is calling in construction crews again. Just a year after opening its new terminal, airport officials see a need to expand the eastern pier that handles flights bound for destinations outside the so-called “Schengen area” of Europe.
“Traffic to and from countries outside Schengen has shown considerably larger growth than traffic within Schengen in recent years,” Dag Falk-Petersen, head of Norway’s airport authority Avinor, told newspaper Aftenposten on Friday. Both Qatar Airways and Emirates have recently boosted frequency, for example, while Ethiopian Airlines and several others are also planning more flights to and from Oslo.
Falk-Petersen wouldn’t reveal more names of airlines keen on boosting flights at OSL Gardermoen, but intercontinental travel continues to climb. Passenger growth between Norway and China is also flying high, and Falk-Petersen told Aftenposten he would welcome a direct route to a Chinese destination.
That’s not likely to be offered by either ever-expanding Norwegian Air, which lacks airspace rights over Russia, or Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), which has chosen to run its direct flights to Asia from either Stockholm or Copenhagen and tie them to feeder flights from Oslo. None of the Chinese carriers has a route to Oslo, opting so far to boost capacity via Stockholm and Copenhagen as well.
The terminal area behind passport control for passengers leaving the Schengen area of Europe, of which Norway is a part, is already inadequate for the traffic it’s handling. Serious problems broke out in 2016 when passengers were stuck in unexpectedly long lines just to get through passport control, and some missed their flights.
Avinor’s board thus approved, at a meeting Thursday afternoon, expansion that will increase capacity from the current 5.5 million passengers a year to 8 million. Aftenposten reported that the airport’s eastern pier will be extended to offer a total of 14 gates and aircraft slots that will be able to handle jumbo jets. The expanded gate area will also include more retail and restaurant space plus a lounge on a new top floor reserved for airlines’ most frequent flyers and those paying high ticket prices, so they can get through passport control and then relax or work in a lounge right up until departure time. The so-called “Non-Schengen” area also has security demands that are higher than for the rest of the airport, according to architect firm Nordic-Office of Architecture that has long been active at Gardermoen.
The expanded terminal will also be able to accommodate the US’ so-called “pre-clearance” system if airlines choose to commit to it. “Pre-clearance” involves use of US officials to carry out immigration and customs control before passengers leave for the US. While Norwegian Air wants to use it, SAS and many other airlines have so far turned it down.
Work on the new airport expansion project will start in October and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2022. It’s projected to cost NOK 3.3 billion kroner (USD 400 million), roughly what Oslo’s Opera House was budgeted to cost after years of public debate. There’s been little if any debate about this new expansion of the airport, which also obtains financing from tax-free sales.
Falk-Petersen was ready, meanwhile, to counter any criticism about airport expansion that can lead to more carbon emissions from more flights. He claimed that more use of direct, non-stop flights that allow passengers to avoid changing planes is better for the climate, and that’s what the new terminal can facilitate.
“There is no doubt from our side that direct routes are more climate-friendly than having to fly to Frankfurt or other places to get yourself farther out in the world,” Falk-Petersen told Aftenposten.