The Changi way
Tan Lye Teck, Changi Airport Group’s executive vice president for airport management, brings Joe Bates up to speed on how his gateway has fared in 2022 and explains why Singapore Changi is looking to the future with optimism.
As we near the end of 2022, where would you say Singapore Changi is in its recovery from the global pandemic in terms of passenger numbers and your route network, and what are the expectations for 2023?
Singapore Changi Airport handled 3.7 million passenger movements in October 2022, reaching 65.3% of its pre-COVID-19 traffic levels. With more borders re-opening and as the global travel recovery picks up pace, we expect the airport to handle 80% of pre-COVID-19 flights by year-end.
Operationally, Changi is now back to using all four terminals again and subsequently capable of handling up to 70 million passengers per annum after only operating Terminals 1 and 3 during the pandemic. We re-opened Terminal 4 in September, 2022, after a hiatus of more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This followed the resumption of arrival operations in the southern wing of Terminal 2, which was undergoing expansion works, in May 2022.
In terms of connectivity and route network, Changi Airport is currently served by more than 80 airlines flying to some 130 cities globally. North America, South Asia and Oceania have experienced the strongest recovery when it comes to passenger traffic. In fact, passenger numbers to and from North America have rebounded so strongly that they have now exceeded pre-pandemic levels.
When it comes to the South Asia market, Changi has not only re-established connectivity but exceeded its pre-COVID-19 city links, and India now ranks among Changi’s top three markets for recovery.
In Oceania, Australia has been experiencing a strong recovery, with both Qantas and British Airways resuming their Sydney-Singapore-London services.
On the back of a continued surge in travel demand as we move into 2023, Changi Airport Group [CAG] will continue to work closely with our airline partners to increase flight frequencies and connectivity to better serve our passengers.
Looking forward, when is it envisaged that passenger traffic will return to 2019 levels, and are there any particular markets that are expected to drive the recovery?
Both ACI and IATA have forecast that passenger traffic will recover to pre-COVID-19 levels by 2024. We expect the recovery at Changi Airport to continue to gather pace in the months ahead as travel restrictions are eased in key markets in the region. Having said that, we believe that the recovery of Asia-Pacific, in general, may lag behind other regions because of existing restrictions in key markets like North Asia.
While it is difficult for us to determine when we will return to pre-pandemic levels, our focus remains on ramping up Changi Airport’s capacity so that we are ready when the traffic returns.
From CAG’s perspective, our teams have been working hard to grow our connectivity and expand our reach to new source markets and passenger segments. In the last two years, we welcomed 10 new passenger airlines – a mix of full-service and low-cost carriers – and introduced five new passenger city links. We are also working to regain connectivity to points in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia’s secondary cities.
In the longer-term, we aim to become the most connected airport in Asia by actively exploring opportunities with both existing airline partners and prospective new airlines to connect to more secondary cities in Asia, such as Jaipur and Lucknow in India and Hai Phong and Phu Quoc in Vietnam. We also want to broaden and deepen long-haul connectivity to the Americas.
Can you tell our readers a little more about Changi Precinct and its attractions?
When COVID-19 struck and international travel came to a standstill, we partnered with the Singapore Tourism Board and various stakeholders to develop more domestic tourism offerings for locals, and Changi Precinct was one of them.
Made up of eight neighbouring districts such as Changi Village, Tampines, Simei and Pulau Ubin surrounding the airport in the east of Singapore, Changi Precinct features many rustic nature spots, historical landmarks and undiscovered gems waiting to surprise visitors. It complements 10 other precincts in Singapore, each with its own flavour and unique attractions reflecting the history and culture of Singapore.
One of the key attractions that we created within the precinct is the Changi Airport Connector, and within that, Changi Jurassic Mile. As a result, for the first time, we have a recreational cycling-cum-jogging track that runs all the way from Changi Airport to the city area and beyond.
It is now a well-loved attraction by families and young children thanks to features such as its pre-historic-looking flora and fauna as well as permanent life-sized dinosaur displays. We also curated new and interesting products like a cycling tour within Changi Precinct and forest bathing sessions in Jewel Changi Airport, where one can discover the unique charms of the precinct.
And we have no intention of resting on our laurels, as with the recovery of air travel gathering pace across the world, we have exciting plans to boost the attractiveness of Changi Precinct to give travellers even more reasons to come to Singapore and allocate time
in their itinerary to explore the precinct.
What are the key targets of CAG’s sustainabilty strategy and achieving carbon neutrality?
The key targets of CAG’s sustainability strategy are in three main areas – carbon emissions, water consumption and waste recycling.
When it comes to carbon emissions, the plan is for zero carbon growth until 2030, capping absolute carbon emissions at 2018 levels despite the growing number of passengers that Changi Airport is expected to serve in the years ahead.
CAG is committed to cutting carbon emissions while improving resource efficiency through initiatives ranging from projects to enable the use of sustainable aviation fuel, bio-diesel and electric vehicles at the airport. We also strive towards the net zero emissions aspiration by 2050 through the use of new technologies and the increased adoption of renewable energy.
One of the highlights of our recent Sustainability Report was the fact that we managed to decrease our overall water consumption by 5.9% during FY2021/2022. Apart from improving chiller condensate and the airport’s waste water recycling capabilities, Changi has reduced the use of potable and non-potable water, ranging from toilets and building cooling systems to irrigation and cleaning.
Our recycling efforts enabled us to successfully divert 11% of waste from incineration during FY2021/2022. Our philosophy is to optimise waste management by reducing waste at source, encouraging good recycling practices and implementing effective waste collection systems.
Close collaboration and communication with licensed contractors, airport partners and cleaners has also enabled us to identify opportunities to use resources more efficiently. Projects embarked on over the past year have included the upcycling of building materials and composting of horticultural waste.
Although it is still a few years away, can you tell us why Singapore Changi needs Terminal 5?
Terminal 5 is part of the Changi East mega-development – its 1,080-hectare site is almost as big as the land area of today’s Changi Airport – which will provide future capacity for Changi Airport. The new terminal will be able to handle around 50 million passengers annually, boosting Singapore’s air hub status and strengthening its competitiveness and relevance.
Clearly, Terminal 5 will be green and sustainable beyond today’s standards. It will be a resilient complex that can handle future pandemics more nimbly. It will also be designed for the deployment of automation at scale. Very importantly, we would want it to be more than just an airport terminal – we want it to be a place that will connect with and be loved by all Singaporeans.
Is Changi Airport experiencing the same recruitment difficulties as many other airports around the world and, if so, what are you doing to make the airport more attractive to potential new employees?
CAG is currently looking to fill around 250 vacancies, with about half of these being operational roles to help manage the increase in passenger traffic as travel resumes. The rest of the vacancies at CAG relate to the recruitment of new staff with the skill set to support CAG’s transformation and innovation journey for long-term growth. We are actively looking for people with expertise in digital technology to lead more innovative projects and help us create an airport of the future that will enable Changi to stay relevant and ahead of the competition.
For the wider community at Changi Airport, our airport partners have been actively recruiting more staff. This is to enable them to ramp up their operational capacity to handle more flights and more passengers.
The aviation sector in Singapore has responded to the need for more staff by organising job fairs and other activities to attract the workers needed to meet the demands generated by the traffic recovery. Fortunately, in Singapore, aviation is perceived to be an interesting and dynamic industry, and Changi Airport is known to offer a good working environment. Our government and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore have also provided strong support. This has helped the aviation sector to attract over 6,000 new workers in 2022.
Indeed, the airport is well on its way to getting back to the work force level that was in place before the pandemic struck. For me, what is most heartening has been the way the whole airport community has pulled together through thick and thin, firstly to keep going and resilient during the pandemic, and now by all working together to raise manpower levels and step up training so that, together, all of us can ensure a smoother travel journey for passengers coming through Changi Airport.
Spotlight on Terminal 5
First announced in 2013, Changi Airport’s Terminal 5 (T5) is a project being undertaken by the Ministry of Transport (MOT), the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG).
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the T5 project was paused for two years. During this time, MOT, CAAS and CAG admit that they “re-assessed the trajectory of aviation growth”, and reviewed
Terminal 5’s design to make it more modular and further enhance its resilience and sustainability.
To secure Singapore’s capacity to ride on the long-term growth of aviation, work on the T5 project has now resumed. CAG is re-mobilising the design and engineering consultants to refine the T5 design. Construction is expected to commence in about two years to ensure that Terminal 5 is operational around the mid-2030s.
Drawing on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, CAG says T5 will be designed with the flexibility to operate as smaller sub-terminals when needed, with space that could be converted for use during contingencies, such as for testing operations or the segregation of high-risk passengers.
Specialised provisions to reduce the transmission of diseases will also be deployed in T5. These will include the use of contactless systems at passenger touchpoints, as well as enhanced ventilation systems that can be activated during a pandemic to increase the use of fresh air and minimise the mixing of air.
CAG notes that Terminal 5 will be a green and sustainable terminal with carbon footprint reducing solar panels, smart building management systems, district cooling and thermal energy storage.
It is also expected to be a world leader in terms of its deployment of new technology. For example, T5 could see the deployment of autonomous vehicles to support airside baggage and cargo operations as well as robotics for baggage handling.