Changi to join the ranks of super airports

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 12:00am

SINGAPORE'S OMNIPRESENT SENIOR Minister Lee Kuan Yew believes Changi Airport is one of the best investments his government has made.

The coastal complex in the east of the city-state is run with the quiet efficiency that typifies the country's approach to business. And it still garners a regular stream of awards.

'We demolished hundreds of buildings, exhumed thousands of graves, cleared swamps and reclaimed land from the sea,' Mr Lee said of the mammoth construction effort that preceded the airport's opening in July 1981.

Back then it was the largest airport in Asia and even though it has lost that crown to rivals elsewhere, locals remain as proud of Changi as they are of its flagship carrier, Singapore Airlines.

Few people appreciate, however, that Singapore's main aviation gateway remains a work in progress. The original two terminals and associated workings cost S$1.5 billion (about HK$6.6 billion), plus an additional S$800 million write-off for investments at the old airport at Paya Lebar. A major expansion, which will add a third terminal at Changi, is now under way and will cost a further S$1.5 billion and boost the airport's passenger capacity by nearly 50 per cent.

'At the moment the combined handling capacity for terminals one and two is 44 million passengers per year,' said a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). 'When terminal three is ready it will be able to handle 20 million passengers a year, bringing the total handling capacity to 64 million passengers a year.'

The enlarged Changi will be one of a new breed of super airports built to cater for an expected rise in passenger numbers.

Even after the turbulence caused by the September 11 attacks and amid the uncertainty over fresh conflict in Iraq, the International Air Transport Association forecasts that international passenger traffic will grow 3.5 per cent a year until 2005.

The competition for this traffic is already intense. Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok, for example, could handle 37 million passengers a year when it opened and its projected capacity is more than twice that at 87 million. Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Singapore's closest rival, can handle 25 million passengers a year and there are plans to boost it to 35 million by 2008 and 45 million by 2021.

'The environment is getting more competitive. There are newer and bigger airports in the region and they all want to expand and get market share,' the CAAS spokesman said. 'Of course, the pie will also get bigger so it is important and useful that the airports continue to improve and strengthen the network in the region, with each having a share of the growing market.'

Plans for Changi's terminal three - which will be situated directly opposite the second terminal - were contained in Singapore's original airport master-plan, drawn up in the late 1970s.

The third terminal was originally supposed to open in 2004, but the Asian financial crisis undermined regional traffic growth and knocked the construction schedule back to 2006.

The planned Singapore facility will be able to handle the new generation of jumbos, such as Airbus Industrie's planned A380, which could be configured to hold 880 passengers in a single class or, more likely, 555 spread across the three traditional classes.

CAAS says terminal three will have nine aerobridges for the giant aircraft and officials are looking at the older terminals to gauge whether selective upgrades are possible.