It's departure time: Iconic flip boards being retired at Changi T2

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack and the flipping of the flaps came to a complete halt.

On Feb 6, at about 11.30pm, the flip board that displayed flight information - located between check-in rows 9 and 10 at the departure hall - for Changi Airport Terminal 2 was decommissioned.

The iconic board was one of two remaining analogue flight information display flip boards at the airport.

The other flip board, located between check-in rows 3 and 4, will be retired in about two years' time. Both boards will be replaced by electronic ones.

The flip boards, which have been providing flight information to passengers since 1999, are being replaced because it has become increasingly difficult to maintain them and to source for spare parts.

"Maintaining the board required extreme precision," said Mr Gan Swee Peng, 65, lead engineer of NCS, the company that maintains the flight information display boards at Changi Airport.

Regular maintenance for the flip board is done every six months.

"The rotation gears, with a small diameter of 30mm, had to be placed at an exact angle, otherwise the wrong letters and numbers will be displayed.

"In 2015, when the manufacturing company of the T2 analogue flip boards informed us that they were no longer producing parts for the board, we knew we would eventually run out of replacement parts."

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Upgrading of the boards was necessary due to expansion works in Terminal 2 which started after the Chinese New Year holidays.

Due for completion around 2024, the renovation will increase the terminal's handling capacity, as well as replace ageing facilities and amenities.

A departures sign panel inside the storage facility at Global Specialised Services Warehouse on Feb 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Immediately after the flip board stopped working, there was a flurry of activity as workers started moving metal poles and building a wall of scaffolding to board up the area from check-in row 9 onwards.

Each flip board consists of one large display board, 48 panels, more than 50 metal casings and 2,052 capsules of individual letters and numbers.

Contractors transferring one of the last six pieces of the holding structure of the analogue flight information display flip board outside the hoarding area in Changi Airport Terminal 2 for loading onto a truck for transportation to a storage facility after midnight on Feb 27, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The board - also known as a Solari Board and named after Italian display manufacturer Solari di Udine - is 4.5m in height, 15m in length and 0.3m in width.

On Feb 13, when the first capsules were to be uninstalled, there was a sense of anticipation in the air.

  • 2,052

    Number of capsules of individual letters and numbers in each flip board, which also consists of one large display board, 48 panels and more than 50 metal casings.

A two-man team were raised up on a scissor lift and they carefully removed the capsules one at a time, taking care not to damage any of the circuitry and flaps.

The capsules were packed closely into blue containers and cushioned with acid-free paper.

Bigger items such as the holding structures, panels and casings were wrapped with foam and bubble wrap.

Most of the components were taken apart by Feb 24 and transported to the National Heritage Board's (NHB) storage facility for cleaning.

Mr Soh Pang Ching, 29, Manager (Collections Management) from Heritage Conservation Centre , transferring the packed capsules onto a painting trolley at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on Feb 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

After the cleaning process, which is expected to take six months, the components will be transferred to NHB's Heritage Conservation Centre to be added to the National Collection.

Ms Audrey Lian, 31, a human resource assistant manager who was at Terminal 2 on Feb 6, said: "In the past, as a kid, the board was fascinating to me. When the board had to reflect a change in flight information, the letters would rotate at a high speed to present the correct information.

Mr Leon Sim Rong Wei, 31, Assistant Conservator (Objects) from 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

"It always made me wonder how the board was controlled and how it worked with the huge amount of flight data."

Ms Lian posed for photos in front of the board with her two friends before they left for their trip to Taiwan.

When the time comes for the flip board to no longer be in use, it will still have a place at the airport.

Some of the capsules of individual letters, 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 Ang Siew Min, senior vice-president for development operations at Changi Airport Group, said: "The flip boards are certainly a part of Changi Airport's history.

"Hence, we will also reuse 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."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2020, with the headline It's departure time: Iconic flip boards being retired at Changi T2. Subscribe