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Changi must soar to beat competition

Publication Date : 25-07-2012


Changi Airport's plan to nearly double its present size is a bold step that recalls the gumption of its pioneer management team, led by the late Howe Yoon Chong. Building a large airport from scratch on reclaimed land was a daunting task but this act of faith has paid off handsomely. The scale and cost of the projected expansion will be no less a calculated bet on the potential of traffic growth generated within Asia and beyond. But deferring a decision would not be wise given the gestation period required and the competition that Changi is up against.

Newer aviation hubs in East Asia and the Gulf sheikdoms are making gains, as traffic concentrations devolve in step with the changing economic profile of regions. Changi is under pressure to keep raising its game as rival hubs improve connectivity and service. Hong Kong and Seoul airports have earned a classy reputation. Dubai together with its carrier Emirates made a hub of the Gulf. Then there is Beijing: The city will move 150 million to 180 million passengers a year (Changi's capacity is 73 million) when a planned second airport with nine runways is fully functional. Beijing will then overtake London as the busiest hub. Meanwhile, London is considering a new airport on the Thames estuary that can handle 150 million passengers, to relieve pressure on Heathrow.

Such is the scale of the plans on the drawing boards of other air hubs that Changi cannot afford to think too conservatively. As a facility and a brand, it has been a boon to Singapore. The country and the airport are frequently mentioned in the same breath, conjoined as an exemplar of quality. After three decades of sterling service, an expansion of Changi Airport's capacity is the minimum that is required to accommodate the growth in travel. Encouragingly, 1,000ha of new land have been allocated for additional terminals and runways - a considerable commitment for a land-scarce nation.

Much will be expected of the people handling the scoping studies as there isn't much time to lose. The work will involve a close and hard look at emerging air travel patterns and new technology. Intra-Asia and transcontinental movements will fuel new growth. This calls for planning acuity. The types of new aircraft being designed will have a bearing on airport design as fuel efficiency determines the viability of airlines, and hence of airports. Thriving airports could decline in importance when new route configurations based on fuel range and optimal cruising speeds place them precipitately in the 'wrong' time zone. Hedging bets by having a broader vision of the uses of new facilities is prudent - for example, marrying the concepts of a transport node and a leisure alternative.


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