Monday, July 28, 2008

Changi Airport in Singapore chalks up healthy growth in passengers

By Karamjit Kaur, Aviation Correspondent
ART STOP: This 7.5m-tall sculpture at T3, titled Coming Home, was created by the artist who designed the Beijing Games mascots. Changi Airport has been unrelentingly upgrading its facilities to attract travellers. -- ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG
CHANGI Airport seems to be weathering the storm of a global aviation crisis, with half-year passenger traffic up 5.4 per cent to 18.7 million travellers.

The low-cost travel segment in particular has been key to the growth of the airport.

Between January and June, airlines like Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia contributed about 11.5 per cent of Changi's total traffic, and close to half of the net growth.

But the airport, which accounts for 100,000 jobs and injects over $10 billion into the economy, faces new risks and challenges amid an uncertain economic climate and record high fuel prices.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned yesterday that competition among airports is also becoming more intense.

Speaking at the official opening of Changi's Terminal 3 (T3) which started operating in January, he said: 'Many other airports aspire to be global and regional air hubs, and are building up their capabilities in order to attract more airlines and travellers.'

Last year, Changi handled 37 million passengers, making it the sixth busiest airport in the world for international traffic.

Its rivals are also growing.

In the first half of the year, passenger traffic at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport grew 1.94 per cent to 21.21 million passengers. Hong Kong grew 7.3 per cent to hit 24.4 million passengers.

Dubai airport - riding on the Middle Eastern boom - recorded a double-digit growth of 13.8 per cent, to handle 18.46 million passengers.

For Changi to continue to do well, it must among other things, 'pay meticulous attention' to service quality, Mr Lee said.

'Changi Airport is the first and last impression that most visitors have of Singapore. It is therefore a standard bearer for the Singapore brand. Indeed, for many transit passengers, Changi Airport is the only place in Singapore they come into contact with.

'Hence, it is essential that these passengers leave with memorable experiences, impressed with both the airport and with Singapore, and interested in coming back for a repeat visit.'

Corporatisation - announced last year - will be a major step for Changi to prepare for the future, said the Prime Minister.

When the transformation from government to corporate entity is completed by early next year, the airport will adopt private-sector practices like setting competitive salaries.

Apart from the restructuring exercise, Changi has also been unrelentingly upgrading and improving its facilities to attract airlines and travellers.

At 380,000 sq m, the new $1.75 billion T3 for example, is the airport's biggest. Currently five carriers, including Singapore Airlines, operate out of the facility.

Barely a year after its opening, planning has already started for T4, which will further increase Changi's handling capacity - now about 70 million passengers a year.

The chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Mr Liew Mun Leong, is confident that Changi will close the year with 5 per cent to 6 per cent passenger growth.

He said: 'People will still need to fly. The question is how do we capture the traffic.'

One way is to support airlines and offer them incentives and in this regards, Changi is 'one of the more proactive' airports in the region, said Jet Airways' regional vice-president for South-east Asia, Mr Gerry Oh.

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