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Changi Airport posts milestone year with 62.2 million passengers in 2017

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Changi Airport, which handled a record 62.2 million passengers last year, expects traffic to continue growing this year, although the pace of growth may ease slightly from 2017.

Singapore

CHANGI Airport, which handled a record 62.2 million passengers last year, expects traffic to continue growing this year, although the pace of growth may ease slightly from 2017.

At 6 per cent, traffic growth was broad-based across the regions, but India and China - which are among Changi's top 10 country markets - stood out in particular. Traffic to and from the two nations expanded in the double-digits last year, expanding at 12 per cent to 6.3 million and 16 per cent to 4.2 million respectively.

Meanwhile, traffic to and from Kuala Lumpur rose 7 per cent, overtaking Jakarta as the airport's busiest route, while Guangzhou was the fastest growing destination at 15 per cent.

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South-east Asia and North-east Asia contributed to about 70 per cent of total traffic at Changi last year.

"Last year was a very strong year," said Lim Ching Kiat, Changi Airport Group's (CAG) managing director (air hub development). "This year will . . . probably be a bit slower, but still a good year all around."

Aircraft take-offs and landings were up by 3.5 per cent year on year to a milestone 373,200 in 2017 while cargo throughput grew by 7.9 per cent, surpassing two million tonnes for the first time to hit 2.13 million tonnes. Growth was seen for cargo throughput across imports (8 per cent), exports (14 per cent) and trans-shipments (4 per cent).

Singapore Management University Assistant Professor Terence Fan, who specialises in transport, told The Business Times that the improving global economy helped to boost air travel last year. "Singapore has been able to scoop up its share of demand, particularly in South-east Asia," he said.

In past years, the aggressive expansion of low-cost carriers (LCCs) had enabled Changi to clock double-digit growth. However, LCC expansion has since slowed in line with a more mature market, resulting in single-digit growth since 2013.

Centre for Aviation (CAPA) analyst Brendan Sobie said in a recent report: "Changi's overall growth rate is not likely to return to the double-digits. However, Singapore should be able to continue achieving average annual growth in the mid-single digits."

Today, LCCs account for roughly 30 per cent of Changi's traffic.

Between 2015 and 2035, traffic at South-east Asia's largest airport is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 3 to 4 per cent, said airport operator CAG.

But even amid bouyant growth, the airport still faces some headwinds, namely intensifying competition from other airports as well as ensuring infrastructure can keep up as travel demand across the Asia-Pacific picks up pace.

Changi is already expanding an existing terminal and adding a new one. When retail and lifestyle development Jewel and the expansion of Terminal 1 is completed in 2019, it will add three million in annual passenger handling capacity to the 82 million capacity at Terminals 1 to 4 currently.

A third runway by the early 2020s will help ease air traffic congestion, while Terminal 5, slated to launch around 2030, will add a further 50 million in capacity.

While a massive project, T5 is realistic, given that Changi's traffic will likely double again in the next fifteen to twenty years, reckons Mr Sobie.

But until T5 opens, "the infrastructure can still handle growth if there's an even spread of traffic," said Prof Fan, adding that there are some lull periods during the day.

He said there is room to tweak operations by implementing some of the new technologies currently being tested out at T4 and the older terminals to speed up passenger flow. T4, which opened its doors in end-October last year, handled over 1.3 million passengers in its first two months.

CAG said it could explore other avenues to avoid a potential capacity crunch down the line, such as getting airlines to use bigger aircraft, prioritising strategic markets or new city links for new flights, as well as leveraging on remote aircraft parking stands.

In its 2017 performance update, CAG also highlighted that it ramped up efforts to cater to the fly-cruise and fly-ferry passenger segments last year.

For instance, a new shuttle service was launched between the airport and Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, which saw nearly 10,000 riders over a seven-month period. To grow the fly-cruise market, CAG has inked a number of collaborations with cruise companies, which are expected to attract over 600,000 visitors over four years.

CAG's Mr Lim added: "Looking ahead in 2018, we expect to see more developments in the long-haul segments to Europe. At the same time, we will continue our efforts to strengthen our connectivity to secondary cities in China and India - our fastest-growing markets in 2017."

CAG has earmarked Indonesia as another engine of growth, while new routes to Europe this year will include Scoot's direct service to Berlin and LOT Polish Airlines' link to Warsaw. In addition, Qantas will launch a daily Singapore-London route from March, while Germany's Lufthansa will resume flights to Munich.

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