SINGAPORE - Changi Airport's newest terminal - T4 - started its first day of operations early Tuesday (Oct 31) morning, marking a critical milestone in Singapore's aviation history.
Airport operations went off without a hitch, with passengers for the first flight out to Hong Kong streaming in as early as 4am to the departure hall to use the self-check-in facilities. Airport staff were on hand to guide them through the process.
The first arriving and departing flights at T4 were operated by Cathay Pacific - CX659 from Hong Kong arrived at 5.40am and CX650 departed Singapore for Hong Kong at 6.50am.
Nurse Minee Moh, 29, was at the airport around 5am to check in for her flight to Hong Kong for a five-day holiday.
"The check-in and baggage-drop experience was very good and very smooth. Other airports and T1 have the self-check-in system. It saves time, and I'm very honoured to be on the first flight out," she said.
Mr C.S. Tan, an IT professional in his 40s, and his family, who were heading to Hong Kong for a week-long holiday, were impressed by the airport facilities and self-check-in services.
"Everything is automated and very intuitive. We didn't know we were the first passengers, but it's nice," said Mr Tan.
His wife, Madam Angela Tan, also an IT professional in her 40s, said of the immigration clearance and security systems: "It's definitely higher security, but it wasn't a hassle. The full-body scanning machines are quite cool, like you're in a Mission Impossible movie."
Meanwhile, passengers arriving from Hong Kong on CX659 were greeted at the arrival gate by airport staff with orchids and goodie bags. At the baggage collection area, they were entertained by an instrumental quartet, and also treated to coffee and breakfast.
Passengers said the arrival hall was spacious, adding that the walk from the arrival gate to immigration was fuss-free, with clear signage.
Retiree Zhao Chuan Xin, 65, who is from Henan, China, said: “At other airport terminals, we have to walk around to find our way. But at T4, it’s a simple and direct walk from the airplane to arrivals. I’m very pleased.”
Cabin crew member Tan Yu Ling, 27, a Singaporean who was returning from a vacation in Hong Kong, said: “The new terminal feels very spacious. The automated immigration clearance system also looks very high-tech and futuristic.”
Mr Mohamad Hossenbux, 51, a managing director of an aerospace company, also said: “The ergonomics, in terms of the lighting and decor, is very subtle and pleasing.” Added Mr Hossenbux, who is from Canada: “After a long trip, it feels relaxing and peaceful."
Speaking to reporters soon after the first flight took off, managing director of airport operations management Jayson Goh said he was happy with the overall smooth operations and passengers' satisfaction with the new systems and amenities.
"(Besides the new automated system), engaging the passengers, creating new experiences and new options for them to have a memorable experience at Changi will remain a key area we focus on to strengthen the competitiveness of Changi Airport."
When asked about some feedback from passengers who faced difficulties with the automated bag-drop system, Mr Goh said in Mandarin: "For the new facilities, we will have staff to help teach the passengers how to use them. In the meantime, we will be sending more staff to each check-in counter; there are currently about six to eight staff at each counter."
T4 is the newest terminal for Changi in nearly 10 years after Terminal 3 was opened in 2008.
The new terminal features new technologies, systems and procedures, such as a facial recognition system that will capture a passenger's photo at different stations, centralised security screening, as well as start-to-end self-service options for check-in.
To ensure that the high-tech systems were up to speed to handle passengers, a total of 150 trials involving 10,000 volunteers and airport staff to test different systems and processes were carried out before the terminal's opening.
Cathay Pacific and Korean Air are the first airlines to operate out of T4. The remaining airlines, including Cebu Pacific, Spring Airlines, the AirAsia group and Vietnam Airlines, will progressively move from other terminals over a week.
With T4, Changi Airport will be able to handle up to 16 million passengers a year, increasing its overall annual capacity to 82 million passengers.
This will provide the necessary capacity until the next major injection comes in about 10 to 12 years through the opening of Terminal 5.
In the first half of this year, Changi handled 5.7 per cent more passengers at 30.4 million, boosted by growth to and from South-east Asia, North-east Asia and South Asia.
The airport will add a third runway around 2020, while T5 - due to open some time in the late 2020s - will enable the airport to handle another 50 million passengers.