Aviation museum better way to honour Mr Lee?

It may be more meaningful to record his legacy than to rename airport

AN ONLINE petition for Changi Airport to be renamed Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) International Airport has garnered nearly 12,500 signatures over four days.

The list is with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who said he would bring the matter up with the Government, according to the petition organiser, who goes by the moniker "Remembering LKY".

When Parliament sits today, Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to consider renaming the airport after Mr Lee.

In a recent tribute to Mr Lee, who died at 91 on March 23, Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong said: "Changi Airport was his baby, and it has become an icon. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was truly the Father of Changi Airport."

So should the airport take his name?

While the petitioners have good intentions in honouring his legacy in this way, it might not be the best way to recognise his contributions.

Make no mistake - without Mr Lee, there would be no Changi Airport.

He was the one who pushed for the airport's move from Paya Lebar to Changi, even though foreign experts disagreed.

He foresaw that an airport on the coast would allow room for expansion towards the sea and would direct noise away from the city.

From a single-terminal facility, Changi has grown into three terminals. A fourth will open in 2017 and a fifth around 2025.

Now, more than 100 airlines link the airport to about 300 cities in over 70 countries, and it continues to win awards.

In short, the name Changi Airport represents an award-winning brand worldwide - synonymous with efficiency, class and modernity.

To take away the name would undo, to some extent, the hard work put in over the past 34 years to build up this reputation.

Indeed, one could argue it would diminish the legacy that Mr Lee has left behind.

One middle-ground option that could be considered without removing Changi's brand name would be to rename it Lee Kuan Yew Changi Airport.

The petitioners, who had hoped to go a step further by changing its airport code from SIN to LKY will be disappointed to learn that LKY is already being used by Lake Manyara Airport in Tanzania, Africa.

Internationally, it is not uncommon for airports to be named after famous individuals, especially politicians.

The Sydney-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation said in a recent report that an estimated 317 scheduled commercial airports around the world, out of about 4,000, are named after a person - usually a national leader - to immortalise him or her.

Examples include John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport.

However, the report also noted that some industry players are not convinced of the value of these naming activities. They feel renaming an airport could generate confusion as travellers might be used to the previous name, or the new name might not reflect the city or country it is in.

Other sceptics argue that naming an airport, or any other prominent landmark, after a person could lose its significance over time. In particular, tourists might be less familiar than residents with the history behind the move.

Perhaps the petitioners could reconsider how they want Mr Lee to be honoured.

A better way to acknowledge his legacy might be to record - for future generations of Singaporeans, residents and travellers - his contributions to the Singapore aviation industry in an aviation museum.

The museum could be sited at one of the three existing terminals or, better still, at the upcoming Jewel facility.

Slated to open in 2018, the $1.7 billion retail-cum-airport structure is being built in front of Terminal 1, where an open-air carpark now sits.

Jewel is also targeted at travellers, especially those in transit and local visitors, which would make it a perfect place to house the museum.

The museum could chronicle and showcase - through videos, photographs and essays - Mr Lee's work and achievements, which include not just what he did for Changi Airport but national carrier Singapore Airlines as well.

Establishing a museum that would chronicle and highlight the key role Mr Lee played in the aviation industry would be a more meaningful way to remember him - and it would also inform and enrich travellers coming through Singapore.

karam@sph.com.sg