Singapore aims to be Asia’s busiest international airport

SINGAPORE: Changi Airport was crowned the world’s best aerodrome for 15 years straight prior to Covid based on its superior traveller offerings and high-tech customer service.

Now it’s readying to welcome back visitors en masse, hoping improvements made during the pandemic will cement its status as Asia’s premier aviation hub.

Most of the shops at the two Changi terminals that are operating have reopened and business partners like Singapore Airlines Ltd and ground handling and catering outfit SATS Ltd are hiring in anticipation of a travel rebound, seeking to avoid the labour shortage-induced snarls of Australia and Europe.

New technology is being applied that’s taking contactless service to the next level.

Such efforts could help Changi become the region’s busiest airport for international travel in 2022, a title that’s there for the taking considering the woes of Hong Kong International Airport, where air passenger traffic has slowed to a trickle under China’s Covid-Zero policy.

Restoring Changi, which commands a certain spot in the nation’s psyche, is also vital to Singapore’s economy, with the aviation sector accounting for more than 5% of the city’s gross domestic product and providing around 200,000 jobs.

“Changi is the most liberal airport we have in South-East Asia right now,” said Mohshin Aziz, director of the Pangolin Aviation Recovery Fund, which invests in aviation-related businesses.

“We are in this situation where the difference in policies will determine whether an airport is in the 21st century or in the dark ages.”

Singapore was among the first in Asia to start easing travel restrictions by establishing so-called vaccinated travel lanes that ultimately allowed people from 32 countries to visit without quarantine.

From April, the island was opened to anyone who is fully inoculated regardless of where they’re from.

While waiting for footfall pick up, Changi was making behind-the-scenes adjustments.

Self check-in kiosks and baggage drops now operate when a person hovers their finger over a screen.

Passengers use automated immigration gates that scan faces and irises if those biometrics are registered in a passport.

Air conditioning and mechanical ventilation has been installed with hospital-grade filters and ultraviolet sanitisation systems, and autonomous cleaning robots use misting to disinfect carpets.

Singapore itself has set aside almost S$500mil (US$367mil or RM1.56bil) to spur a tourism revival.

And travellers are coming back, gradually. Changi handled 1.42 million passengers in the first two months of this year, a jump from 263,000 the same period 12 months ago.

That compares with Hong Kong, which handled 157,000 passengers in January and February.

South Korea’s Incheon International Airport, ranked No. 1 in Asia for international travel in 2021, processed 675,452 international passengers in the first two months of 2022. — Bloomberg

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