SINGAPORE - All travellers, whether they take short or long-haul flights, use the same facilities at Changi Airport and should pay the same departure fees, said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng.
"It is only fair," said Mr Ng, who was responding to a suggestion by Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Choa Chu Kang GRC) for long-haul travellers to pay a higher rate.
This is to ensure that Singapore does not lose its competitive edge as a regional hub, said Mr Zaqy, who raised the matter following an announcement last week that from July 1, all travellers will have to pay $13.30 more when flying out of Changi Airport.
The extra - on top of $34 which travellers now pay - is to help fund the development of Changi East; a massive expansion masterplan which includes the construction of Terminal 5.
Mr Ng said that the Government had considered a tiered pricing system but decided against it and was using the same principle that guides current charges at Changi Airport.
Speaking on Wednesday (March 7) during the debate on the Transport Ministry's budget, Mr Ng also addressed Mr Zaqy's point that while airports in Hong Kong, Dubai and Qatar are also collecting from users to fund future expansion, South Korea's Incheon is not.
Mr Ng pointed out that while the Incheon expansion added extra capacity of 18 million passengers a year (about the size of Terminal 4), the Changi East development is tantamount to building a brand new airport development.
Slated to be completed around 2030, T5 will eventually be able to handle up to 70 million passengers a year, which is more than T1, T2 and T3 combined.
On the need to impose user charges ahead of T5's completion - something that airlines and some travellers have objected to - Mr Ng pointed out that airport users will benefit even before the new terminal opens.
A third runway being built as part of the Changi East project will allow the airport to handle a growing number of flights when all three runways are operational in the early 2020s - almost 10 years before T5 opens.
"Having users start paying earlier also avoids having large spikes in the amount they must pay later on," said Mr Ng.
He added that the Government will bear a significant portion of the Changi East development costs which is expected to run into tens of billions, while Changi Airport Group will also commit significant resources.
Mr Ng did not reveal the total projected cost for the expansion, a question Mr Zaqy had raised.
The minister, however, reiterated that with the demand for air travel in the Asia-Pacific expected to grow strongly in the coming decades and with the aviation sector a cornerstone of the economy, Changi's expansion is much needed.
As the sector continues to grow, skills upgrading will also be intensified.
In April last year, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) unveiled its Air Industry Transformation Map (ITM), detailing its mid- to long-term plans to transform the aviation sector.
Later this year, the industry will also launch an Aviation Transformation Programme (ATP) to continue to build local capabilities to boost productivity and efficiency.