Changi Airport's de-installed flip board to be part of the National Collection

Travellers walking past one of Changi Airport Terminal 2's analogue flight information display flip board, minutes before its decommissioning at 11.30pm, on Feb 6, 2020.
Travellers walking past one of Changi Airport Terminal 2's analogue flight information display flip board, minutes before its decommissioning at 11.30pm, on Feb 6, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A close-up look at the analogue flight information display flip board before its first capsules were removed.
A close-up look at the analogue flight information display flip board before its first capsules were removed.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Contractors transporting one of the pieces of the analogue flight information display flip board's holding structure for loading onto a truck, at Changi Airport Terminal 2 after midnight on Feb 27, 2020.
Contractors transporting one of the pieces of the analogue flight information display flip board's holding structure for loading onto a truck, at Changi Airport Terminal 2 after midnight on Feb 27, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Capsules from the analogue boards displaying individual letters, the time, airlines, flight information, and numbers on display inside the storage facility at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.
Capsules from the analogue boards displaying individual letters, the time, airlines, flight information, and numbers on display inside the storage facility at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mr Leon Sim Rong Wei, assistant conservator (objects) from the Heritage Conservation Centre, cleaning the capsules using a brush and vacuum cleaner at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.
Mr Leon Sim Rong Wei, assistant conservator (objects) from the Heritage Conservation Centre, cleaning the capsules using a brush and vacuum cleaner at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
A capsule showing accumulated dust (left) and a cleaned capsule.
A capsule showing accumulated dust (left) and a cleaned capsule. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The "Departures" sign panel sitting inside the storage facility at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.
The "Departures" sign panel sitting inside the storage facility at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Dust and who knows what else has been accumulating for over 21 years but that didn't deter Ms Birte Koehler and her brush and handheld vacuum cleaner.

Ms Koehler, the senior object conservator at the Heritage Conservation Centre (HCC), was among three experts tasked with cleaning one of the two flight information display flip boards that used to tower over departing passengers at Changi Airport's Terminal 2 (T2).

The boards have had their day. The transition from analogue to electronic was inevitable, given the challenges of maintenance and increasing difficulties in procuring replacement parts.

Even the company that manufactured T2's boards in 1999 has ceased production of their components.

Electronic displays can show far more flight detail than the archaic analogue boards in T2 could, and they take less time and manpower to maintain.

Each analogue board comprises more than 2,000 capsules of individual letters and numbers, towering at 4.5m in height and 15m long.

Their usual role of presenting flight details deviated in 2016 when the flip boards celebrated Joseph Schooling's Olympic victory by displaying his winning time.

If it is of any comfort to travellers, Mr Ang Siew Min, senior vice-president of development operations at Changi Airport Group, said there are plans to "re-use the last remaining flip board, to be retired in about two years' time, in a different part of the airport as a display piece to be enjoyed by all who visit".

About 20 people were involved in de-installing the flip board over the past two weeks.

The pieces are undergoing cleaning and packaging at the Global Specialised Services Warehouse. They will then be transferred to the HCC, which is a part of the National Heritage Board, to join Singapore's National Collection.

Mr Alvin Tan, the National Heritage Board's deputy chief executive for policy and community, said: "We believe that (the board) is an important piece of airport infrastructure and a formative feature of the air travel experience.

 
 

"Many Singaporeans will remember standing underneath the boards, listening to the clickety-clack sounds of the split flaps and waiting for their flight information to be displayed."

On the challenges faced by the conservators, Mr Tan said the process is quite time-consuming, as there are more than 2,000 components to be cleaned.

"We also have to take a lot of care, because some of the components are quite fragile and replacement parts might not be easily found."

A single module takes two to five minutes to be thoroughly cleaned.

Ms Koehler said the repetitive process of cleaning the modules in a similar fashion over an extended period allows her to get into a quiet rhythm: "It becomes a meditative process; you tune in with the pieces that you are working on."

The entire process is estimated to take six months.