Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Changi Airport reaches 1 billion passengers milestone

A billion passengers on, Changi Airport aims higher
New terminals to boost handling capacity even as airport pushes for more automation
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 29 May 2017

There was little chatter over the air traffic control radio as the historic flight approached Changi Airport at sunrise.

"We had the whole sky to ourselves," recalled Singapore Airlines Captain Gan Kim Hock.

It was July 1, 1981, and he was first officer on Flight SQ101 - the very first scheduled commercial flight to land at the spanking new $1.5 billion Singapore Changi Airport. "I was just a new first officer living my dream of flying and, there I was, making history with Changi Airport," Capt Gan told The Straits Times.

About an hour earlier, the Boeing 727 aircraft had taken off from Kuala Lumpur airport, with 140 "excited" passengers on board.

In the cockpit with him were Captain T.K. Pow and Assistant Chief Flight Engineer P.H. Cheah.

"It was fantastic... The first thing we saw was the iconic control tower at Changi. Looking down at the airport and the space around the control tower and the terminal building, we could see it was going to expand a lot more," said Captain Gan, 59.

It was a far cry from Paya Lebar Airport, which opened in 1955 and was, by then, bursting at its seams.

Even as he foresaw further expansion, "never in my wildest dreams did I expect that Changi would be what it is now", Capt Gan said. And he cannot imagine what it will be like in 10 to 12 years, when Terminal 5 (T5) is ready.

Thirty-six years after SQ101 and from the 4.3 million passengers handled in the first six months after its opening, Changi Airport marked a significant milestone last month when it crossed the one-billion-passenger mark.

It was a proud moment for Mr Ho Beng Huat, 69, who joined the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore before Changi Airport's opening and is now a Changi Airport consultant.

The growth has surprised everyone, he said, including the foreign consultants who drew up Changi's plans.

"The whole masterplan was wrong... They grossly underestimated the potential," Mr Ho said, adding that the projection was for Changi's annual handling numbers to eventually grow to about 30 million passengers. Last year, the airport handled almost 60 million passengers, he said.

The numbers continue to rise, with the latest data showing a 7.8 per cent growth in traffic last month to 5.17 million passengers, compared with April last year.

With a fourth passenger terminal opening later this year and plans for T5 in full swing, the expansion will more than double Changi's annual handling capacity to 150 million passengers eventually.

Mr Ho is confident that the capacity will be utilised as demand for air travel is expected to continue to grow strongly.

The challenge for Changi Airport will be to ensure that passenger comfort and convenience are not compromised when T5 - which will eventually be bigger than T1, T2 and T3 combined - opens, Mr Ho said.

"T5 is a totally different ball game and will present new challenges we are not familiar with... We don't have all the answers yet, but we will," he said.

Changi is working with its partners, including ground-handling firm SATS, to push automation and do-it-yourself processes that will allow the airport to rely less on manpower.

Veteran SATS staff member Augustine Lim, 53, who works with airlines to ensure that aircraft are loaded correctly, is excited about the future.

He said: "Changi has come a long way in 36 years. It is much busier now, which adds to operational challenges. But automation and technology, which have totally transformed the way we work, have helped us manage the higher loads."

Changi's Jewel set to dazzle visitors with array of attractions
A tourist destination in its own right, it'll have attractions aimed at both locals and travellers
By Karamjit Kaur, Senior Aviation Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2017

You will be able to walk through its indoor gardens, bounce on its nets and see children lose themselves in its mazes.

When it opens its doors in early 2019, Changi Airport's lifestyle and retail hub Jewel is set to be a tourist attraction in its own right.

Thrill-seekers will be able to walk along a bridge suspended 23m from the ground and jump on a 250m-long bouncing net, which at its highest point will be suspended 8m, or three storeys, above ground.

There will also be slides and walking trails amid simulated clouds.

The attractions are part of a 14,000 sq m Canopy Park, the size of 11 Olympic-size swimming pools, located on the top floor of Jewel, which is being built in front of Terminal 1.

Jewel Changi Airport - a joint venture between Changi Airport Group and CapitaLand Mall Asia - will boast one of the largest indoor collections of plants in Singapore. About half of the greenery is to be housed in Canopy Park, which will have 1,400 trees and palms.

Among the lush offerings will be two specially created gardens - the Topiary Walk and Petal Garden.

Nestled among winding walkways, the Topiary Walk will feature animal-shaped topiaries at every corner, while the Petal Garden will have seasonal floral displays.

There will also be mazes and a children's play area known as Foggy Bowls, which will have four gentle concave bowls with depths ranging from 30cm to 65cm.

Giving a glimpse of what visitors can expect, Jewel Changi Airport Development said that the attractions are aimed at both local residents and travellers.

"When we conceptualised Canopy Park, we envisaged an area that is not only relaxing because of the lush greenery, but also one that is filled with activities and interactions for visitors of all ages," said Ms Hung Jean, its chief executive.

Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the 10-storey Jewel complex will feature a distinctive dome-shaped facade made of glass and steel.

At approximately 134,000 sq m in size, it will offer a range of facilities, including airport services, indoor gardens, leisure attractions, and retail and dining offerings, as well as a hotel.

To allow all travellers to enjoy the facilities, Jewel intends to offer early check-in services, and is working with Changi Airport to get as many airlines on board as possible.

Where this is not possible, Ms Hung said, travellers will be able to drop their bags off at a designated area and pick them up later.

Considering that locals might flock to Jewel, steps have been taken to avoid traffic snarl-ups. Changi spokesman Ivan Tan said there will be more taxi bays, for example. Other plans will be shared later.

The development of Jewel comes as Changi Airport faces tough competition from airports in the region for transit and destination traffic. Last year, Changi handled 58.7 million visitors, out of which 30 per cent was transit traffic.

Assistant Professor Terence Fan of Singapore Management University, who specialises in transport, said Jewel should help boost Changi's status as an air hub.

"The global air travel industry is increasingly competitive. And while travellers' choice of connecting airports are traditionally constrained by their choice of airlines, having a very good reason to make a connection at Changi can help steer travellers in their travel decision," he said.

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