The Straits Times says

Challenges on the way to new heights

Changi Airport welcomed its 60 millionth passenger for this year earlier this month, registering a first for the airport in its 36 years of existence. The airport's passenger traffic has increased 10 per cent since 2012, when it crossed the 50-million-passengers mark. These happy figures attest to sustained efforts by Changi, the sixth-busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic, to tap into the expanding civil aviation market in the Asia-Pacific. The region accounts for 33 per cent of global traffic, and achieved a notable 10.2 per cent growth rate last year.

Indeed, so spectacular has the growth been that the head of the United Nations' civil aviation arm warned Asian nations recently that the region would not be able to cope with the growing number of flights unless countries set aside sovereignty concerns and worked together to share data and information. Changi's success embodies Singapore's belief in a point which the UN official emphasised: that increased international routes and flights equate with greater local prosperity. In Singapore's case, this realisation is a geographical given because of the absence of a domestic aviation sector, but other countries which do possess that sector also have woken up to the rich potential of borderless skies.

However, challenges remain to Changi's eminent position. To begin with, the top three busiest airports for international passenger traffic are Dubai, London's Heathrow and Hong Kong International Airport. Their commanding positions draw partly on their location in the Middle East, Europe and North-east Asia. Thus, Changi must capitalise all the more on its position as South-east Asia's signature airport, even as competition shapes up in the aspirations of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and Kuala Lumpur International Airport to become regional hubs. Competition forces Changi to not rest on its laurels but to embark on new strategies to secure its position.

It has done so by reaching out to airlines to launch new routes and products while seeking to ensure that its reputation for security, efficiency, reliability and speed does not suffer in the pursuit of higher passenger numbers. Investing in capacity expansion plays an integral role in its growth strategies. With Terminal 5, Changi Airport will almost double in size to cover more than 2,000ha, with room for up to 150 million passengers a year, compared with 82 million now. The new Terminal 4 indicates Changi's vision of the future: Travellers use a start-to-end automated process, from check-in to boarding.

These initiatives reveal the need for Changi to merge long-term infrastructural planning with incremental improvements so that passengers associate it instinctively with another famous national brand, Singapore Airlines. Changi must be the airport that even other airports talk about.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Challenges on the way to new heights'. Print Edition | Subscribe