Taoyuan International Airport: Building for the future
President and CEO, Jerry Dann, tells Joe Bates more about the ambitions and future development plans of Taoyuan International Airport.
Can you tell us more about your planned new Terminal 3 and how big a milestone is it for the airport?
It is a huge milestone for Taoyuan International Airport [TPE] as it will boost the airport’s capacity by 45 million passengers per annum and offer new levels of service, operational efficiency and convenience to passengers, visitors and our airline customers. It is also the single biggest public engineering project currently underway in Chinese Taipei.
Set to open in three annual phases between 2024 and 2026, the $3 billion terminal is badly needed as Taoyuan International Airport handled more than 48.6 million passengers 2019, far exceeding the 37 million passengers per annum design capacity of the current terminals.
Looking slightly further ahead, it will become the main departure terminal for TPE’s planned new Runway 3, which is the next major infrastructure project on the airport’s agenda.
What can we expect from Terminal 3 in terms of its design, size and facilities?
The design concept of Terminal 3 differs greatly from T1 and T2. Its design has been inspired by Chinese Taipei’s beautiful landscapes, the seas surrounding it, the rhythms of nature and life to create a series of unique interior places beneath an elegant hard-shell roof.
When fully built, Terminal 3 will cover an area of 640,000sqm, which will ensure a light and spacious environment for passengers and allow for the addition of a number of innovative and purpose-built facilities.
In Terminal 3, for example, the retail/F&B offerings will be designed as a one-stop service with most outlets located in an area just beyond border control and the security checkpoint.
The single designated space will enable us to offer a wider and more diversified shopping experience and dining choices to cater to the constantly changing needs of passengers.
As a result, the terminal’s concourses will serve mainly for boarding and rest, with necessary retail and dining options such as snack bars and souvenir shops.
Will it be a high-tech terminal?
Absolutely! Terminal 3 will be an intelligent terminal with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 wireless coverage throughout. It will boast common use self-service (CUSS) kiosks, self-bag drop (SBD) equipment and biometric technology to facilitate a touchless and smooth clearance procedure.
At a higher level, we plan to use T3 as an incubation centre for new technologies. The plan is to invite the most innovative information and communications technology [ICT] companies to submit applications to test new technologies at TPE that could be used in an airport environment. We are specifically thinking of passenger flow, monitoring and guidance technology, baggage handling, and traffic analysis to accelerate efficiency and service levels.
What next for TPE in terms of new infrastructure?
Airport construction never stops. We actually expect to be heavily engaged in major engineering projects until at least 2030, with the previously mentioned third runway or R3 as we call it, the next big project. Chinese Taipei’s Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) is currently working on the land acquisition procedure for the new runway as a part of TPE’s Taoyuan Aerotropolis Plan.
After R3 we will build satellite concourses and new cargo and aircraft maintenance areas between the third runway and the existing north runway. We also have plans to develop a new Free Trade Zone.
All of these projects are included in our 2040 airport master plan, which will be reviewed every five years to ensure the continued development of TPE and its status as one of the region’s top international airports.
How did passenger numbers hold up last year and will 2022 be any better?
There is no getting away from the fact that the last two years have been extremely difficult for TPE as our passenger numbers have been severely impacted by the global pandemic. We served just over 7.38 million passengers in 2020, and had hoped that last year would be better, but our international borders remained largely closed, and we ended up handling just over 909,268 passengers in 2021.
We know that other airports across the region are also experiencing similar tough times, but this is, of course, scant consolation to us. It is, however, worth noting that Taoyuan is a pure international airport. We only serve international passengers. As a result, we have been more impacted and operationally constrained by the border closures and travel restrictions caused by COVID than airports with huge domestic markets.
Are you anywhere near to getting all your destinations and airline frequencies back?
We remain heavily impacted by the pandemic and, in my view, require two key things to happen before international travel can really begin to recover. We need people to be fully vaccinated [two jabs] and we need greater trust and co-operation between nations.
Singapore Airlines relaunched the Taoyuan-Los Angeles route – which it last operated in 2004 – between August 2021 and the end of its winter schedule in February 2022. To us, this demonstrates their faith in our actions to combat COVID and in TPE’s status as a major hub for flights from North America and Europe heading to South Asia, Australia, New Zealand and North East Asia.
In other route development news, Chinese Taipei-based, Starlux Airlines, will launch a weekly service to Fukuoka on February 17, 2022, it’s third Japanese destination served from TPE after Tokyo Narita and Osaka Kansai.
Worthy of mention is the fact that Starlux also commenced services to Singapore in September 2021 and, both it and China Airlines, have announced plans to launch flights between TPE and Mactan-Cebu in The Philippines from March 27, 2022.
New services have also been launched by Thai VietJet (Taipei-Bangkok) and Hong Kong Express (Taipei-Hong Kong), and in terms of returning services, Thai Airways has resumed operations from Bangkok.
So, there are signs of encouragement, but there is still a long way to go for us, especially as it is generally accepted that the global recovery of international flights will lag behind that of domestic flights.
Is it fair to say that cargo has done a little better?
Yes, although I believe that ‘better’ is a bit of an understatement as I think that a fairer description of our cargo performance over the last two years would be ‘remarkable’.
Putting that in perspective, TPE processed 2.3 million tonnes of cargo in 2020, which, at the time, was an all-time high and a rise of 7.3% on 2019. Indeed, the growth rate was the biggest of any airport in East Asia and confirmed our status as the seventh busiest cargo airport on the planet, based on ACI’s traffic figures.
And the good news is that this upward trajectory continued in 2021, a 30% rise in volumes in the first half of the year paving the way for an annual record of 2.8 million tonnes of cargo. That’s 20% more than in 2020 and a remarkable 34% up on pre-COVID levels.
Many factors have contributed to TPE’s cargo growth. Domestically, demand for semiconductors and electronic consumer goods and other components manufactured in Chinese Taipei soared during the pandemic.
Our unique geographical advantage at the heart of East Asia has also helped establish TPE as a leading centre for transhipments. The sizeable cargo fleets of home carriers, China Airlines and Eva Air, have helped in this regards and proved instrumental in allowing us to take advantage of new opportunities when they arise.
In terms of the bigger picture, China’s domestic success in combatting COVID-19 certainly helped resume global consumption and increased demand for transhipments.
The contrasting fortunes of passenger and cargo traffic presented us with the opportunity to make a few operational changes, one of which was to reconfigure TPE’s airside resources to facilitate the handling of more cargo operations. We have allocated more apron space for freighters, for example, and decided to reserve two stands to load and unload freight that would normally have been used for passenger flights.
What steps have you taken to combat COVID-19 and ensure the health and wellbeing of passengers and staff at TPE?
The health and safety of passengers and staff is our top priority. We follow the guidance of the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on all matters related to the pandemic and therefore believe that we have some of the best COVID prevention measures in place anywhere in the world.
To highlight a few initiatives. We follow the most rigorous cleaning and disinfection measures every hour. All facilities and space used by arriving passengers are disinfected immediately. We also insist that all stakeholders perform their own deep cleaning and disinfection practices at 4.30pm every day. To protect cleaners, we ask them to remain socially distanced at all times, keeping three to five metres away from passengers and only begin disinfecting areas when they are clear of people. All on duty cleaners are screened weekly.
To enable us to have better control of the people coming into our terminals we have reduced the number of entrances from 63 to 20, and everyone using them has to wear face masks and undergo body temperature checks by infrared thermal camera or handheld thermometer. Inside the Arrivals hall, passenger flows are divided into four types: general arrival passengers, crew members, travel bubble passengers, and passengers from high-risk countries.
We ask all departing passengers to socially distance, keeping at least 1.5 metres from other travellers while checking-in. All check-in counters feature screens with translucent glass designed to prevent the spread of the virus. Arrival activities are limited to the Arrivals hall ground floor, where queue stands [barriers] and signage are used to separate people doing different things. Security guards are also stationed there to guide passenger flows.
The airport has also established a fleet of 718 vehicles that are regularly sanitised to prevent the spread of COVID. This fleet includes 564 taxis, 129 rental cars and 25 tour buses that transport travellers to accommodation/places approved by the CECC.
Finally, we have implemented a highly successful on-site vaccination programme to make it quick and easy for airport staff to get their COVID jabs. The inoculation centre has been set up in co-operation with the CECC and the Taoyuan City government, and to date has helped ensure that 98% of airport staff been inoculated.
I am glad to say that our COVID-prevention efforts earned Taoyuan International Airport accreditation in ACI’s Airport Health Accreditation programme in April 2021.
How important are EVA Air and China Airlines to the success of TPE?
All our airlines are important to us, but EVA Air and China Airlines are particularly close to our heart as they are the two major home carriers of Chinese Taipei and therefore will play a major role in helping shape the future growth and development of Taoyuan International Airport.
In 2019, TPE handled 48.6 million passengers and had a route network of 167 cities in 34 countries. Star Alliance member, EVA Air, contributed about 23.7% of the traffic, flying to 60 cities in 19 countries, while SkyTeam member, China Airlines, accounted for 25% of the traffic as it operated a route network to 73 cities in 22 countries.
EVA Air’s planned future expansion of its fleet will almost certainly increase traffic volumes at TPE. Likewise, its decision to embrace automation and increased digitalisation is likely to require Taoyuan International Airport to add more infrastructure to facilitate its operations. Our relationship with EVA Air is therefore one of mutual understanding and co-operation.
China Airlines has ambitious plans to expand its route network to North America, Europe and Southeast Asia from TPE, so it is imperative that we meet its needs both now and in the future.
EVA Air and China Airlines traditionally lead the way. In 2019, EVA Air handled around 11.3 million passengers and China Airlines 11.8 million, although in 2020 those figures fell to around two million and 1.9 million respectively. The totals meant that EVA accounted for 28.3% of all passengers handled at TPE in 2020 and China Airlines for 26.4%. Making up the top five were Cathay Pacific (5.36%); Tigerair Taiwan (3.91%); and Peach Aviation (3.01%).
In normal circumstances, what are the top five routes from TPE?
Our most popular routes are Hong Kong, Tokyo Narita, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Osaka (Kansai) and Incheon (Seoul). Pre-COVID, each route accounted for more than seven million passengers, but in 2020 only Hong Kong, with 641,224 passengers, welcomed more than half a million people and last year none handled more than 300,000.
Please tell us a little more about TPE’s aerotropolis plans?
Taoyuan Aerotropolis is a major land acquisition and industrial investment project centred on TPE developed in partnership with the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) and the Taoyuan City government to boost the competitiveness of the airport, airport city, and the whole nation.
TPE’s location, transport links and hub status are the driving force behind its development. It is the air gateway of Chinese Taipei and has the advantage of being located close to the Taipei Harbour and adjacent to both the High Speed Rail (HSR) station and National Highway No.1 that connects all major cities on the west coast. This connectivity ensures the rapid flow of cargo and people.
In 2021, Taoyuan Aerotropolis formally gained its legal status as the Ministry of Interior approved it as a city plan defining its location, size and geographical shape. Five major areas are planned – an airport park, a Free Trade Zone (FTZ), restricted industry zone, commercial area, and residential area.
In geographical terms, Taoyuan Aerotropolis comprises a 1,860 hectare ‘yolk’ surrounded by a 1,860 hectare ‘egg white’.
The yolk is where the airport park is located, and covers its terminals, runways, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities, FTZ and cargo terminals.
Taoyuan International Airport Corporation, supervised by the MOTC, is the main planner and operator of the yolk, for which we have compiled the airport masterplan 2030 that designated the development of each projects. Our main focus is on Terminal 3, the third runway (R3) and the expansion of FTZ.
As I mentioned earlier, the CAA is procuring land from local inhabitants in the north of the airport park for R3. In the current ‘land swap’ process, people have to be resettled in residential areas before work can start on the construction of the new runway.
Meanwhile, the Taoyuan City government is responsible for developing the egg white. To do this, it established the Taoyuan Aerotropolis Corporation to invite private investment in commercial and industrial zones. After the investment stage, the Aerotropolis Corporation will also be the managing unit of the egg white.
From the standpoint of the airport corporation, we encourage and welcome private investments in Taoyuan Aerotropolis, and will do all we can to facilitate its development.