Premier aviation hub of the region

Posted: 7 June 2007 | Mr Goh Yong Long, Director of Marketing and Communications, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) | No comments yet

The rapid growth in the air transport industry has been a driving force towards the development of civil aviation and airport operations in Singapore since the early 1900s. Over the years, Singapore has seen the development of three airports, namely Seletar Airport, Kallang Airport and Paya Lebar Airport, to cater to the unprecedented demand for air transport / travel.

The rapid growth in the air transport industry has been a driving force towards the development of civil aviation and airport operations in Singapore since the early 1900s. Over the years, Singapore has seen the development of three airports, namely Seletar Airport, Kallang Airport and Paya Lebar Airport, to cater to the unprecedented demand for air transport / travel.

However, the strain of handling four million passengers per year prompted the Singapore government to make a decision, in 1975, to build a brand new airport at Changi to replace Paya Lebar Airport. Construction of Changi Airport took about six years before it commenced operations in Terminal 1, with one runway, in 1981. Since then, the airport has been continually expanded, upgraded and refreshed. The second runway was completed and opened in 1984 and in 1990 Terminal 2 was opened.

Since Changi Airport began operations, its performance continues to improve year on year. The successful formula of providing clockwork efficiency, quality service and world-class facilities, coupled with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore’s (CAAS) efforts to secure new airlines and routes, are reasons why the airport has one of the most extensive air links in the Asia-Pacific region. Every week, Changi Airport is served by over 80 airlines with approximately 4,200 scheduled flights, linking Singapore to 187 cities in 59 countries.

Changi Airport experienced robust growth in passenger and cargo traffic in 2006. The airport, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2006, achieved a new record of 35.03 million passenger movements, or an 8% year-on-year (y-o-y) increase, while its cargo throughput also hit an all-time high of 1.91 million tonnes, representing a 4.2% y-o-y increase over 2005. In addition, it has also bagged over 250 accolades from industry, media and the travelling public, among them the prestigious International Air Transport Association (IATA) Eagle Award for a record four times.

Developing and managing Changi Airport

CAAS develops and manages Changi Airport. When we set out to create Changi, we had no idea how big it would become. Changi did not set out to be the world’s best airport. We were more focused on making the airport efficient by running it well. We wanted a pragmatic design for Changi, something functional and cost-effective, yet exuding quiet elegance. For instance, there would be no technically complex designs or attempts at what was conceptually difficult. Too much was at stake to experiment with untried or unproven concepts or to use sophisticated automated systems which were susceptible to frequent breakdowns and may impair the efficient function of the airport.

The emphasis was on simplicity of layout, flexibility to adapt to future changes, and provisions for the passengers’ convenience. It should ensure expeditious and efficient flow of passengers through the various facilities and sub-systems in the passenger terminal, from health, immigration, customs and baggage claim, to airport shops/services and land transport. Passengers should pass through the airport without anxiety and with pleasant memories of their experience.

As air traffic grew, there was a greater need for the various airport agencies to keep to the same beat and play the same tune. The Changi philosophy is built around the passenger, and what passengers want is comfort and convenience. This was something quite new (in the 1970s) because no one had given much thought to it. We had to persuade Customs, Immigration, the Police and even the airlines – everyone involved in the running of the airport – that this was something they should be proud of and contribute to.

Of the more than 35,000 airport staff, only about 1,600 staff are under CAAS. The rest are from the more than 200 organisations in the airport community. These include government agencies, ground handling companies such as Singapore Airport Terminal Services, Changi International Airport Services, Swissport International, air freight forwarders and the many contractors that work in the airport.

We see the need for all the various airport players to get their acts together. We see Changi Airport as an orchestra, and all the other airport agencies as musicians playing different instruments. As the conductor of this orchestra, CAAS has to coordinate the roles of all these players well so that Changi can continue to produce world-class performance. Besides setting high performance standards, we also have an elaborate system of monitoring and reviewing key operational performance daily to ensure that these service standards, as well as operational efficiency and safety, are consistently maintained, if not exceeded.

Meeting aviation challenges

To meet the challenges of the growing competition and to accommodate the changes in the business environment of the air transport industry, we have focused our efforts in the following key areas:

  • Enhancing Changi Airport’s connectivity / air network – We are constantly working to improve our air network, ie, attracting more airlines, increasing city links and country links to Singapore. We market Changi to new airlines and encourage existing airlines to expand their operations out of Changi.
  • Close partnership with our airline partners – what Changi sees as key to maintaining our position is that we must have a close and excellent working relationship with our airline partners. An important factor is to be able to understand their needs and respond quickly to their needs. By doing so, we can help smoothen their operations here as well as entrench them here. For example, during the outbreak of SARS in Singapore in 2003, many of the airlines were bleeding. Their planes were flying at less than half full. We responded quickly. Our SARS Relief package cost us S$114 million, and included a further 30% rebate in aircraft landing fees, as well as rebates on airport rentals. Thus, we need to be nimble and flexible, and be able to respond quickly to the needs of airlines if we are to do well.
  • Liberal aviation policy – Singapore has a liberal aviation policy and we strive to expand our exchange of air rights with as many countries as possible. This policy has been crucial to Singapore’s growth as a major air hub, promoting direct trade and travel links with nations around the globe. Conscious efforts are made to encourage as many of the world’s airlines as possible to operate to and through Singapore. While we may insist on reciprocal opportunities for our national carriers, we do not stop another country’s airlines from flying here even if our national carriers have no immediate plans to fly to the country. Today, we have open skies agreements with New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, the US, Peru, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, Samoa, Sri Lanka and very liberal agreements with Thailand and Australia.
  • Capacity – We continue to inject additional capacity and improve our facilities in anticipation of expected demands. We have recently completed the upgrading of Terminal 2 at a cost of S$240 million and will be upgrading Terminal 1 soon. As excitement is buzzing over the arrival of the super jumbo Airbus A380, Changi is readying itself to be the first airport in the world to welcome the A380 when it begins operations. Some S$60 million has been set aside to modify the airport infrastructure so as to continue to grow Changi’s status as an aviation hub after the A380 begins operations. Construction of Terminal 3 is underway. When ready in early 2008, it will be able to handle 20 million passengers a year, bringing the total capacity of Changi Airport to 67 million passengers a year.

The Changi experience

Over the years, Changi Airport has gained a reputation as one of the world’s best airports. It has successfully transformed travellers’ perception of an airport as a functional port of call, to one which embraces them with fond memories of an enjoyable experience. Travellers have constantly commended Changi for its efforts in rolling out innovative facilities and efficient services. This is most evident in the numerous Best Airport awards Changi has garnered over the years, which were bestowed upon Changi based on the results of airport surveys conducted worldwide.

Examples of such innovative ideas included a live gameshow “What’s Your Range?” for travellers, which ran for three months within the Departure/Transit mall; a swimming pool and Jacuzzi; several unique theme gardens such as Cactus and Sunflower gardens and a free tour of Singapore’s city/Sentosa island for transit passengers. And some of the best facilities come free for Changi’s passengers, such as the live music, TV lounges, Internet PCs, Xbox and Xbox ‘Live’ games, movies, massage chairs and Internet with video and voice chat capabilities, just to name a few.

CAAS is always on the lookout to introduce innovative facilities and services to enhance the experience of travellers at Changi Airport and to ensure that airport operations are smooth and safe for other airport users.

One change that is in progress is the development of a retail environment inside the airport that will match downtown shopping malls. We have more than 35 million passengers passing through the airport each year and there is an excellent opportunity to serve this huge group of users with an exciting choice of products and services which will be very price competitive because of our duty-free and Goods and Services Tax-free advantage. Revenue from retail rental has also become crucial for the airport, as revenue from aeronautical charges on airlines and passengers comes under increasing pressure to be moderated in the face of competition by airports to attract more airlines and passengers.

Another change is our increasing emphasis on the use of modern technology in the airport. Passengers will experience more convenience and choices as they use or go through our airport. For example self-service check-in kiosks will become increasingly prevalent as an option to queuing up at a manual check-in counter. Internet technology, especially using wireless broadband, will be another example of our efforts to facilitate processes as well as create the “Changi Experience” for travellers. Biometrics systems using fingerprint technology have been introduced to enhance security and facilitate immigration clearance at the airport.


Changi Airport has a customer centric philosophy. CAAS makes concerted efforts to continually enhance the “Changi Experience” for travellers at Changi Airport. We are constantly upgrading both the hardware and software aspects of the “Changi Experience”. On the hardware side, we upgrade our terminal buildings, facilities and equipment to ensure the airport looks modern and works efficiently. On the software side, we invest in staff development to ensure that customer service continues to be exemplary.

Airlines have also recognised us for our airline-friendly approach. We view all airlines as our partners. We place high emphasis on maintaining strong relationships with our airline partners and work closely with them on ways to help them grow their business at Changi Airport.

Goh Yong Long

Goh Yong Long worked as an Engineer in an American consultancy company from 1979 before joining the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) in 1984. A graduate with a Masters of Science (Civil Engineering), he also completed the Advanced Management Program in INSEAD in 1995.

During his 22 year career at CAAS, he has worked in several Divisions including Airport Management, Air Transport and Training and Consultancy. He is now Director of Marketing & Communications. He has held senior management positions as Director (Public & International Relations), Director (Singapore Aviation Academy) and Director (Air Traffic Services). He had also assumed a concurrent appointment as the General Manager of Singapore Changi Airport Enterprise Pte Ltd, a fully owned subsidiary of CAAS responsible for overseas airport investments and consultancy services. He has consultancy experience in China, India, Fiji, Pakistan and the Philippines.

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