Changi on track to close gap with Heathrow

Changi Airport's Terminal 4 taking shape. At its busiest, Changi handles 55 to 60 flights an hour. Heathrow does up to 84 flights an hour.
Changi Airport's Terminal 4 taking shape. At its busiest, Changi handles 55 to 60 flights an hour. Heathrow does up to 84 flights an hour.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Airport working its two runways harder as flights set to increase and third runway years away

Changi Airport is working its two runways harder and closing the gap with the world's busiest two-runway airport, London's Heathrow.

At its busiest, Changi handles 55 to 60 flights an hour, or about a flight a minute. Heathrow does up to 84 flights an hour.

With more than five years till Changi gets a third runway and flight numbers expected to rise in that time, the two current runways need to work harder, experts say.

British firm Nats, which provides air navigation services for Heathrow, has been roped in by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to help Changi do this.

Over the next two years, Nats will support Changi in various initiatives, for example, equipping air traffic controllers with the skills to handle more flights.


Changi Airport's Terminal 4 taking shape. At its busiest, Changi handles 55 to 60 flights an hour. Heathrow does up to 84 flights an hour. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The training will include preparing the team for the three-runway operation being developed as part of plans for Changi East, where Terminal 5 will be located.

Nats managing director for services Catherine Mason told The Straits Times that while the aim is not necessarily for Changi to handle as many flights as Heathrow, the Singapore airport can do more.

She did not, however, provide a specific number, saying the situation for each airport is different.

"You have to take into account different factors, for example, the complexity of the air space and the geography around the airport."

She added that Nats will do a comprehensive review of Changi Airport to understand how it can maximise capacity safely. There are three key areas of focus: People, process and technology.

On whether travellers should expect more delays and hiccups as flights increase, Ms Mason stressed that the important thing is to build resilience into the system so that if there are hiccups, recovery is quick.

However, it has to be expected that as operations approach full capacity, it will become more challenging to recover services when there are hiccups, she said.

The third runway will provide added capacity and give Changi "a lot more headroom and the ability to recover more speedily" if there are problems.

Changi Airport handled 341,390 take-offs and landings last year. While this was a 0.7 per cent dip on 2013, there remains a need to press on with the runway expansion plans, said Mr Brendan Sobie, an analyst at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.

He said: "The runway capacity issue has always been more pressing than terminal capacity. There are hardly any available slots at peak hours, which is making potential new services unattractive."

He added that Singapore has the chance to take the lead regionally in demonstrating how infrastructure can be used more efficiently.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2015, with the headline 'Changi on track to close gap with Heathrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe