The 14.5km route, delivered by the MPT consortium, is one of the biggest live civil engineering projects in the country. The MPT Consortium is formed of VolkerRail, Laing O'Rourke and Thales and has been appointed by TfGM to design, build and maintain the new Metrolink extensions.
Several major purpose-built structures have been built as part of the programme, including a viaduct over the Mersey Valley, two new bridges over the M60 and M56, and the Ringway Road dual carriageway and underpass at Manchester Airport.
All of the existing highway and street lighting and road signs along the entire route have been renewed and significant urban realm improvements have been made around each of the line's 15 new stops.
A 300-space Park and Ride facility at Sale Water Park, free for Metrolink passengers to use, will serve the line. Services will initially run between Manchester Airport and Cornbrook, every 12 minutes. They will start to run through the city centre once the Second City Crossing is complete in 2017.
Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) Committee, said: "The sheer scale of the challenges this project presented make its early completion a truly phenomenal achievement. To be so far ahead is down to several marginal gains adding up to a significant result: the early delivery of a number of lines allowed us to move resources onto the line earlier; lessons learnt during the early phases of the expansion drove efficiencies across work areas; creating a desktop simulator cut the timescales for driver training in half. These are just a few examples of how, by working closely with local authorities, utility firms, our principal contractor MPT, stakeholders and the operator MRDL, we've become an ultra-efficient machine - and this is our collective reward. My thanks go to everyone involved: the residents, the businesses, the local councillors and MPs, the contractors, the TfGM and city council officers, and Manchester Airport."
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, said: "The early opening of this vital new line to Wythenshawe and Manchester Airport is a tremendous boost for Manchester. For Wythenshawe, it will be a pivotal moment in the town's regeneration which will significantly enhance its pull as a place in which to live in and do business. For the airport, which is crucial to the fortunes of the whole of Greater Manchester, it will provide another attractive transport option for customers and improve links with the emerging Airport City development. In short, this line will be a major new artery helping to pump investment into the heart of our region."
Andrew Cowan, Chief Operating Officer for Manchester Airports Group (MAG), said: "We're delighted that the project will be completed ahead of schedule as the additional transport options open up Airport City to even more people across Greater Manchester, giving us greater connections to areas such as Salford and Oldham. We will be aiming to create thousands of jobs with the project and the addition of more transport links, alongside a fourth rail platform which is also under construction, continues to underscore that Manchester Airport is one of the best served in the UK by ground transport. As well as assisting staff to access the site, we expect that it will also provide another option for the 21m passengers who already use the airport."
Bryan Glass, MPT Project Director, said: "Our team has demonstrated the skills, professionalism and dedication that are increasingly required in British engineering and major project delivery. A planned and strategic approach, applying the latest methodology such as offsite manufacturing of major components, allowed us to make significant savings without compromising safety or quality. There's a huge amount of pride in us all, knowing the first trams will shortly commence testing, eventually forming this new transport artery for Manchester."
The Airport line will bring the size of the Metrolink network to 92.5km (57.5 miles), serving 92 stops.