The new Terminal 4 (T4) is an example of Changi Airport's constant reinvention to keep pace with stiff competition. Built on the site of the former bare-bones Budget Terminal, T4 taps technology to serve a larger number of passengers - with no increase in land use, as well as savings in manpower. It is half the size of T3 but can handle two-thirds of the traffic of the larger facility. Technology is a key factor in such advances. Integrated facial recognition software will give passengers the option of going self-service from start to finish. There will be no more waiting for counters to open. Passengers can easily visit self-service kiosks from check-in and bag drop to immigration and boarding.
Anticipating demand, planning and building ahead is how Changi has kept pace with the best in the world, but as Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan remarks, the aviation sector cannot let its guard down as there are always new players seeking to disrupt the industry. Having adapted to past disruptions caused by low-cost carriers and Middle Eastern super carriers, Changi today faces stiff competition from regional air hubs, all vying for a share of the fast-growing Asia market. Top contenders, such as South Korea's Incheon, Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi, are spending billions of dollars on expansion plans. China is building a new airport in Beijing and has plans for a cluster of airports near Shenzhen. Its airlines are opening new routes, possibly changing travel flows in ways that could hurt Changi.
The new T4 reflects Singapore's resolve to stay ahead of its rivals. It is not only high-tech but also high-touch, tapping art and heritage to provide passengers with a high-quality environment and experience. It is designed with features to help people with disabilities navigate the terminal with ease. It is also a test bed for T5 which, when completed, will be larger than T1, T2 and T3 all put together.
As with all massive infrastructure projects, airport expansion involves a balance between betting big on Singapore's future air hub status, and spending within the country's means given its finite resources. T4 is thus significant as a demonstration of how Changi is able to use technology to boost efficiency and essentially do more with less. The challenge will be to maintain the quality of service that has resulted in air travellers voting Changi the world's best airport for five years running, based on a Skytrax poll.
With a tiny domestic market, Changi has been forced to compete globally from its first day. It has shown that it cannot merely fly high but must soar above its rivals. Still, past success is no guarantee of future reward. Changi will have to keep innovating and adapting to fresh challenges. T4 must become the runway for that effort.