Better aviation infrastructure seen as key to Asean growth

Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong says poor infrastructure is hindering the region's global connectivity.
Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong says poor infrastructure is hindering the region's global connectivity.

Economic growth in Asean countries can be acceleratedif more is done to improve their infrastructure in the region, especially in aviation, said Mr Liew Mun Leong, chairman of both Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong.

The region is grossly deficient in such facilities, and this severely hinders its global connectivity, he told almost 300 business leaders at The Business Times Leaders' Forum 2018 yesterday.

But several obstacles stand in the way of developing the infrastructure, he added.

These include the difficulty of getting finance, as most infrastructure projects may not appear "bankable" if they lack adequate technical and financial feasibility studies.

"It is not uncommon that infrastructure development projects are reported to be notoriously plagued with mismanagement, burdensome bureaucracy or riddled with corruption," he said.

Political instability and uncertainties will also undermine the prospects and confidence in the projects, which involve large capital expenditure.

But with growing demand from China and continued urbanisation in the region, air connectivity among Asean countries is crucial to meet the surge in aviation demand, he said.

Airports in Asean capitals such as Jakarta and Bangkok are facing capacity constraints and plans are afoot to expand them, he noted.

For the top 100 airports in Asia, about half need bigger terminals and around two-thirds need more runway capacity by 2030, he said.

Referring to Changi Airport, Mr Liew said: "One important lesson from our experience is that we always have to plan and develop ahead of demand as an airport requires many years to plan and construct."

The phrase "supply drives demand" is an apt one for the industry, he added.

For Asean countries that lack such infrastructure, he sees plenty of opportunities for such development as the region is rich in resources.

But, he said: "Asean member countries must be committed to efforts to start up these projects to create value and maximise the region's comparative advantage.

"Improvement in airport connectivity will drive regional competitiveness when physical, economic and material connections are optimised between airports and their respective cities," he added.

Mr Liew is confident that if the aviation industry continues to grow, the infrastructure investment would increase exponentially. "For the aviation industry, the sky is really the limit," he quipped.

Vivien Shiao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2018, with the headline 'Better aviation infrastructure seen as key to Asean growth'. Print Edition | Subscribe