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With plans for a three runway system, Terminal 4 nearing completion and a seemingly never ending desire to introduce innovative new services, these are exciting times for Singapore Changi Airport, writes Joe Bates.

When frequent travellers are asked to name their favourite airports, Singapore Changi invariably gets a mention, and more than 530 awards since its opening 35 years ago certainly bear testimony to its popularity.

This year’s awards have, of course, included being named the world’s best airport handling over 40 million passengers per annum in ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) customer satisfaction awards.

It shared the honour and, indeed the prize of Best Airport in the Asia-Pacific Region, with Incheon International Airport.

And like its South Korean counterpart, Changi owes its success to a business strategy and corporate culture firmly focused on service and always striving to do better as much as its facilities.

The Changi Experience

As any passenger to have transited through Changi can testify, operator Changi Airport Group (CAG) takes customer service very seriously, and is particularly innovative in terms of its leisure facilities and ‘entertainment’ for passengers.

Facilities such as a transit hotel that has the only airport rooftop swimming pool in the world, cinema, gardens (butterfly, cactus, orchid and sunflower), the world’s tallest airport slide, Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 consoles, koi pond, art installations such as Kinetic Rain, Daisy and a new interactive Art Wall certainly provide passengers with plenty of options to consider during long layovers.

What does the Changi Experience mean to CAG’s executive vice president for airport management, Tan Lye Teck? He says: “The Changi Experience is about placing passengers and customers at the heart of all we do. 

“It is about understanding and anticipating their needs and wants, and then delivering them, with empathy and care, even before we are asked.”

“The converse is important, too. Feedback from our customers tells us what we are doing well, and also points us towards the areas where we need to work even harder to improve.”

He admits that keeping the Changi Experience “fresh and exciting” is an ongoing challenge, but is confident that with CAG’s determination to innovate and its “unstinting focus on excellence and engagement” will ensure that visiting Changi Airport never becomes boring. 

The recent launch of ‘Pokemon at Changi’ festivities is one example of Changi’s ongoing commitment to raising the customer service bar, says Tan.  

The kick-off event featuring as many as 10 dancing Pikachu attracted more than a thousand young visitors who descended on Changi’s Terminal 3 to be present for the special event.  

“One critical aspect of the Changi Experience is the positive surprise that we aim to deliver to all our passengers and visitors,” adds Tan. “Our aim is to make every visit to Changi Airport a pleasant and memorable experience.”   


Terminal 4

In many ways Changi’s planned Terminal 4 perhaps best sums up Singapore Changi’s determination to innovate and always strive to do better.

True, the 195,000sqm terminal will raise Changi’s passenger handling capacity by around 25% from the current 66 million to an impressive 82 million passengers per annum when it opens in late 2017.

But expanding Changi’s capacity was by no means the sole driving force behind CAG’s decision to bulldoze the Budget Terminal just six years after building it, for the new facility will be bigger, better and more efficient than the one it is replacing.

Indeed, it promises to be one of the most modern and high-tech facilities in the Asia-Pacific region as it is essentially being designed to be a largely self-service building.

“It is a misconception to think of T4 as a replacement for the former Budget Terminal, although they are built on the same piece of land. T4 is being built to offer a better passenger experience and will have a look, feel and ambiance similar to Changi’s main terminals T1 to T3,” says Tan.

He is also confident that its wide choice of retail and F&B offerings and passenger amenities will better serve the needs of travellers.

As CAG’s overall head of airport operations, Tan is nevertheless quick to emphasise that the new terminal’s ability to accommodate up to 16 million passengers per annum cannot be overlooked.

“This is needed to accommodate traffic growth at Changi,” says Tan. “Throughout its history, Changi has always stayed ahead of its capacity needs. This approach has underpinned Changi’s success as an airport that passengers love and airlines appreciate.”

Tan believes that the move to handle both legacy carriers and LCCs in T4 will help ‘future proof’ the facility by ensuring that it is equipped to cater to changing airline business models.

Estimated to cost around S$1.3 billion, the new two-storey complex is also being designed to guarantee the quick turnaround times of narrow body aircraft.

IT innovation

As we reported in the last issue of Asia-Pacific Airports, the desire to give passengers more control over their journeys means that Terminal 4 will be equipped with a suite of self-service options from self-service check-in and bag drop all the way through to self boarding gates.

And for the first time at Changi, facial recognition technology will be used to eliminate the need for manual identity verification by staff, enabling the full automation of processing and checks from departure check-in to aircraft boarding.

The move represents quite a turnaround for CAG, which back in 2012 removed 24 self-service kiosks from its terminals as it believed that they weren’t getting enough use.

So what has caused the change of heart on moving more towards almost 100% self-service technology and does this mean that today’s travellers don’t want to speak to anyone anymore? 

Tan says: “The adoption of self-service options is aligned with the wider global push to improve productivity and efficiency at the same time as providing passengers with more choices, greater flexibility and increased convenience.

“Introducing self-service options does not mean we are abandoning the human touch. In fact, self-service options enable Changi Airport and our partners to not only optimise manpower resources for traditionally labour intensive processes, but free up even more time and bandwidth for staff to continue to deliver a first-class Changi Experience by being there to assist passengers who may need help, with a warm and friendly human touch.”

IT driven innovations can actually be found right across the airport site and range from traditional technologies such as common use check-in counters to beacons, touchscreens in washrooms that people can use to call cleaners to freshen up the facilities, Terminal 1’s Social Tree and interactive works of art in terminals 2 and 3. 

Three-runway system

Earlier this year CAG announced the award of a S$1.1 billion contract to a joint venture formed by Hock Lian Seng Infrastructure and Sembcorp Design and Construction for the second package of works relating to the development of a three-runway system at Singapore Changi Airport.

The airport currently has two 4km long runways but CAG wants to introduce a three-runway system in the early 2020s by extending to a 2.75km runway currently used by the military to 4km to ensure that it is capable of accommodating aircraft up to the size of the A380.

Bringing the new runway onboard will necessitate the construction of 40km of new taxiways, so the size of the project should not be underestimated.

A joint venture of Samsung C&T Corporation and Koh Brothers was awarded the contract for the first package of works for the three-runway system in October 2015.

Tan adds that the project is complex and is taking place amid ongoing airport operations and therefore requires meticulous planning and “excellent execution” across different phases.


Traffic trends

A total of 55.4 million passengers (+2.5%), 1.85 million tonnes of cargo (+0.5%) and 346,330 aircraft movements (+1.4%) ensured that 2015 was another record year for Changi, which is now the sixth busiest gateway on the planet for international passengers.

In terms of Changi’s busiest routes, the Singapore-Jakarta sector continued to top the list with 3.79 million passenger movements last year, followed by Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Manila. 

And with traffic on the rise again this year – passenger numbers were up by 6% to 48.2 million in the first 10 months of 2016 while aircraft movements and cargo volumes increased by 4.1% and 5.9% respectively – it looks like being another successful year for Changi.

Seletar Airport

In addition to Changi, CAG also operates Seletar Airport in Singapore and recently announced plans to upgrade its facilities with the construction of a S$50 million terminal that will allow it to handle up to 700,000 passengers per annum.

The new complex will open at the end of 2018 and replace the current terminal, which handled 26,700 passengers in 2015. 

How will its development benefit air travellers? Tan says: “The new terminal will enable passengers to experience a fresh level of comfort and convenience. 

“Complementing operations at Changi, the new Seletar terminal will enable better use of resources and more flight options at both airports, benefiting Singapore’s aviation eco-system in the long run.”


Shopping and dining

Changi currently boasts over 360 shops and 140 F&B outlets which, in addition to playing an integral part of the airport experience for passengers, help provide the revenue that keeps the gateway’s aeronautical fees competitive, says Tan.

In fact such is the importance of concession revenues to the airport that Tan believes that CAG has a duty as a responsible landlord to actively work with Changi’s retailers and F&B providers to maximise their sales potential.

“We effectively manage one of Singapore’s largest shopping malls, so it is in our best interests to be proactive and help our tenants be successful,” enthuses Tan.

CAG believes that the airport shopping experience at Changi has been transformed by three new duplex store openings by DFS, The Shilla Duty Free and Zara that it claims offers shoppers an even wider range of cosmetics and perfumes, wines and spirits as well as apparel. 

Terminal 4 starts operations next year and will add another 17,000sqm of shopping and dining options into the mix, including some which are uniquely housed within colourful shopfronts that reflect the multi-coloured facades of the old Peranakan buildings in Singapore’s Joo Chiat/Katong neighbourhood.

Jewel in the crown

A joint venture between CAG and CapitaMalls Asia, Jewel Changi Airport is officially described as a mixed-use extension to Terminal 1 that will feature attractions, retail offerings, a hotel and facilities for airport operations.

In reality this means a domed entertainment complex built on a 3.5-hectare site that will boast a plethora of shops, restaurants, gardens and a 130-room hotel centred around the world’s largest indoor waterfall at an eye-catching 40 metres.

Describing the unique facility on its website, CAG says: “Jewel Changi Airport brings the outdoors, indoors in a fusion of nature and a marketplace. A space that lifts spirits and captures hearts with endless sights and surprises nestled within Singapore’s largest indoor garden, topped by an awe-inspiring light and sound show at a towering rain vortex.”

What tempted CAG to invest in such a hugely ambitious project? “In today’s highly competitive landscape where airports around the world are actively competing for passengers’ mindshare, Jewel Changi Airport is a game-changing project for CAG to boost Changi’s position as an air hub of choice for travellers,” says Tan.

“Created to be a world-class attraction, Jewel is aimed at enhancing Changi’s appeal as a stopover point and strengthen our competitive advantage.”

Social media

CAG started its social media engagement shortly after corporatisation in 2009, viewing it as another way of fulfilling the promise of getting closer to its customers.  

It is now active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin, Weibo and WeChat and has its own YouTube channel, all of which Tan believes have provided the platforms for CAG to interact with all its stakeholders, adding a human touch to the Changi brand.  

And he says that airports should not underestimate the global marketing reach and potential revenue earning benefits of social media.

“Many of our passengers and customers now contact us directly via social media with their feedback and suggestions,” he says.

“On our side, we keep them posted about airport news, our development projects big and small, events, the people in the airport community working hard and serving with passion and a myriad of other subjects like, yes, our wonderful gardens.

“Our social media activities are not just focused on raising awareness of the airport, they are also about driving conversations on travel, shopping and dining. We also work closely with our airline partners.”

Its efforts certainly have not gone unnoticed as Changi’s Facebook page has more than 1.5 million page likes and it is engaging well with social media audiences. Its stylish ‘I’m Home’ video on YouTube, for example, has been viewed close to 1.5 million times. 


Aviation leaders have gone on record as stating that sustainable development is the industry’s ‘licence to grow’, a philosophy Tan wholeheartedly agrees with.

As a result, CAG is committed to the sustainable growth of Singapore’s aviation sector and addressing its impact on the environment. According to Tan, for Changi, this means striving to develop its infrastructure and facilities in an environmentally conscious manner, and implementing cost-effective and balanced environmental measures.  

Examples of this philosophy in action include its Eco Framework, where CAG engages with the airport community and collaborates with partners to build awareness and seek improvement in areas such as energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste management.

And CAG’s efforts to incorporate best practices in environmental design and construction have led to all of Changi’s three existing terminals attaining the Singapore Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Gold Award.  

What next for Changi?

Changi’s master plan also calls for the future development of a 50 million passenger capacity Terminal 5, which would raise the airport’s capacity to an incredible 135 million – more than double today’s capacity of 66 million.

According to the concept plan for Terminal 5 submitted to Singapore’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) last year, the complex will feature long linear piers “without cul-de-sacs and sharp corners” which CAG believes will give it the flexibility to adapt to future changes.

The blueprint for the new terminal on a 1,080-hectare site in Changi East includes proposals for a nearby industrial zone for air cargo and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities.

Changi is already home to an MRO cluster of more than 100 companies that includes SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC), the MRO subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. 

It maybe only 35 years old, but Singapore Changi is without doubt one of the world’s most progressive and innovative airports and we haven’t even mentioned its overseas interests and activities in this article. 

With such a determination to always strive to improve, you get the feeling that Singapore Changi’s days of being an aviation pioneer aren’t going to end any time soon.


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