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TERMINAL 4 will give Changi Airport a much-needed boost in handling capacity amid growing passenger traffic and allow the testbedding of automated solutions on a big scale when it opens later this year.
Last year, Changi handled a record 58.7 million passengers, putting it fairly close to the combined 66 million annual handling capacity for terminals 1, 2 and 3. In the first five months of this year, passenger volumes have continued to expand, rising 5.3 per cent year on year.
"T4 . . .will provide much needed capacity in the interim before Terminal 5 comes online," said Vinoop Goel, regional director (airport, passenger, cargo and security) for the International Air Transport Association, adding that this would benefit airside efficiency.
T4 will add 16 million in passenger capacity per year, while T5 - due to open sometime in the late 2020s - will ultimately add a whopping 50 million in passenger capacity. Meanwhile, mixed-use development Jewel - which incorporates lush greenery spread over five storeys, a 40-metre indoor waterfall, retail stores and a hotel - will open in 2019. This is part of efforts to solidify Changi's position as an air hub even as other airports in the region beef up their infrastructure.
Nine airlines will operate out of T4, freeing up capacity at the existing three terminals. They include airlines from the AirAsia group, Cathay Pacific, Cebu Pacific, Korean Air, Spring Airlines and Vietnam Airlines.
"The construction of additional aircraft gates and aircraft parking stands will help to alleviate apron congestion at peak times of the day and improve the overall efficiency of airport operations," said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) director-general Andrew Herdman.
Meanwhile, work is also underway to integrate an upcoming third runway, "with the construction of additional taxiways and supporting infrastructure, which will position Changi Airport for continued future growth", Mr Herdman pointed out. The third runway is slated to come onstream around 2020 as Changi transitions from its dual-runway system with an eye on alleviating air traffic congestion.
Against the backdrop of a tight labour market, T4 will have a slew of fast and seamless travel (Fast) initiatives, which are expected to reap manpower savings of up to 20 per cent. It will have unique features such as centralised screening, where security checks are done at a common point as opposed to individual gatehold rooms as it is currently done at the other three terminals.
Thanks to Fast, passengers at T4 will be able to check in at a kiosk themselves, drop off their bags at the automated bag drop machine, breeze through the immigration gate and clear the boarding gate. For the first time, Changi is also incorporating facial recognition technology.
"In Asia, airports are increasingly turning more to self-service to manage increasing passenger numbers while maintaining a positive customer experience," said Sumesh Patel, president (Asia Pacific) of SITA, which provides a combination of self-service facilities at Changi. "Self-bag drop successfully increases efficiency, with passengers being able to drop their bags in less than 20 seconds."
The airport is operating trials to ready the fourth terminal ahead of its launch, including live flights with participating airlines to iron out any potential snags. Changi Airport Group is also holding an open house from Aug 7 to to Aug 20 for the public to get a preview of the new terminal.
Unlike the other three terminals, which are interconnected by the skytrain and walkways, T4 works better for carriers offering point-to-point operations as passengers with connecting flights would need to be bused over to the other terminals.
Its four gates for wide-body aircraft "limit(s) the flexibility to accomodate wide-body aircraft" and could "lead to increased bus gate usage, which is not a preference for either passengers or airlines", noted Iata's Mr Goel. T4, which was constructed at the site of the former Budget Terminal, has 17 gates for narrow-body aircraft.
Endau Analytics aviation analyst Shukor Yusof reckons that T4 would be able to attract more low-cost carriers and passengers to Changi, because of "its lower costs".
But as Changi expands with new terminals and a third runway, the cost structure of the airport would also be important, especially when competing with other airports across the region.
"The overall challenge for Changi Airport is the massive investments needed for the third runway and the fourth and fifth terminals," said Mr Goel. "Passing all or even any additional costs to the passengers or airlines may have a detrimental impact on traffic. In order to remain attractive, Changi Airport needs to ensure that it is able to provide high service levels but at reasonable costs compared to other hubs in the region and also the Middle-East ones."
With air traffic flourishing in the region, other cities - such as Seoul, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Jakarta - are also investing in infrastructure such as new or upgraded terminals and runways to get a bigger piece of the pie. Malaysia reportedly plans to expand Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while Hong Kong is planning a mega development called Skycity near the airport.
Over in China, where passenger traffic volumes are growing swiftly, Beijing is building a mammoth second airport, Beijing Daxing International, that will open in 2019. Touted as the world's biggest hub, it is being constructed to handle up to 100 million passengers annually.
Industry players point out that this could be an opportunity for Changi to add more flights to Beijing and use it as a hub to link Singapore to more secondary Chinese cities.
But Terence Fan, a transport specialist with the Singapore Management University, highlighted that this could also potentially pose a threat to Changi in the long term if Beijing becomes a major transit point for connecting traffic as frequencies to Europe and the United States grow.
Similarly, if Chinese carriers continue to add a significant number of direct flights and ramp up their frequencies, other airports in China could siphon away traffic from Changi.
"But the thing with China is there are a lot of delays because the airspace is very limited. As long as Changi can keep delays under control, people may still prefer Changi," added Prof Fan.
A bigger worry, he said, would be if airports in cities such as Bangkok and Jakarta got their act together. "Then, I would be a bit more concerned," he added. "For Singapore, traditionally, the competition comes from Hong Kong (and) Hong Kong (airport's new) runway is going to (come) much later than Singapore's."
INFOGRAPHICS: Asia-Pacific's airports gearing up for growth
Amendment note: The story has been corrected to reflect that Terminal 4 has four gates for wide-body aircraft, not eight.