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 me more about your planned new Terminal 3 and how big a milestone it is 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 45 million passengers 2019, far exceeding the 37 million passenger capacity of the current terminals.
Looking slightly further into the future, it will become the main departure terminal for our planned new Runway 3, which is the next major infrastructure development project on the 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, and 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 Terminal 3 as an incubation centre for new technologies. The plan is to invite the most innovative ICT (information and communications technology) 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 is currently working on the land acquisition procedure for the new runway as a part of our 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 2021 be any better?
There is no denying that 2020 was a difficult year for us, as it was for most other airports. We served just over 7.4 million passengers in 2020 and I don’t expect us to do much better this year as our international borders have been largely closed and only recently began to loosen a little.
It is 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 recently relaunched its Taoyuan-Los Angeles service. 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.
Air New Zealand has also resumed its Taipei-Auckland service while new services have been launched by Thai VietJet (Taipei-Bangkok) and Hong Kong Express (Taipei-Hong Kong).
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 did a little better in 2020?
Yes, although I actually think that better is a bit of an understatement. A better description of our cargo performance last year would be remarkable.
Putting that in perspective, in 2020, TPE processed a record 2.34 million tonnes of cargo, a rise of 7.3% on 2019. 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 has continued in 2021 with TPE’s cargo volumes rising by 30% in the first half of the year compared to 2020. The healthy increase means that we are on target to handle an all-time high of 2.8 million tonnes of cargo in 2021 – 20% more than last year.
Many factors have contributed to our 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 combating 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 on the planet.
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 is EVA Air to TPE’s current and future success?
EVA Air is very important to us as it is one of the two major home carriers in Chinese Taipei, along with China Airlines. In 2019, TPE handled 48 million passengers and had a route network of 167 cities in 34 countries. EVA Air contributed about 23.7% of the traffic, flying to 60 cities in 19 countries.
We work closely with all our airlines, but particularly with our home carriers, which will help shape and determine our future. EVA Air’s planned future expansion of its fleet, for example, 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-operatiion. However, I must reiterate that TPE is the homebase of China Airlines and EVA Air and therefore it is imperative that we meet the needs and requirements of both carriers.
Who are the top five airlines at TPE in terms of market share?
EVA Air and China Airlines traditionally lead the way, pre-COVID handling around 7.3 million passengers each per annum, although last year those figures fell to around two million and 1.9 million respectively. The totals meant that EVA accounted for 28.5% of all passengers handled at TPE in 2020 and China Airlines for 26.1%. Making up the top five last year were Cathay Pacific (5.39%); Peach Aviation (3.03%); and Scoot (2.55%).
What were the top five routes in 2020?
Our most popular routes in 2020 were Hong Kong, Tokyo Narita, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi, Osaka (Kansai) and Seoul (Incheon). In 2019, each route accounted for more than seven million passengers, but last year only Hong Kong, with 641,224 passengers, welcomed more than half a million passengers.
Tell us a little more about TPE’s aerotropolis plans?
Graphic 1 (above) shows the layout of Taoyuan Aerotropolis. It comprises a yolk (1,860 hectares shown in grey and green) and an egg white (1,860 hectares shown in pink). The yolk is where the airport is located and covers its terminals, runways, aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities, Free Trade Zone and cargo terminals.
Taoyuan International Airport Corporation, supervised by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC), is the main planner of the yolk, for which we have compiled the airport masterplan 2030 that designated the development of each projects.
The Taoyuan City government is responsible for developing the egg white. To help it do this, it established the Taoyuan Aerotropolis Corporation to invite private investment in several dedicated industry zones of the egg white shown in Graphic 2.
For 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.