Mall, movie, gym: there’s choice at Changi

Even as Dubai World Central plans for global domination in 2015, Singapore’s Changi Airport isn’t awaiting a mute takeover, reports KEITH J FERNANDEZ
Changi Airport’s Terminal 1 is light and airy

DESPITE the rapid strides made in the last few years, as Middle Eastern aviation authorities expand airports and airline infrastructure, they would do well to keep monitoring the action down at Singapore Changi Airport, which has long been the benchmark for airports such as Dubai, Doha and Bahrain.

The official line is, typically, rather bland: Raymond Lim, Singapore’s minister for transport and second minister for foreign affairs, said the city would always compete with itself and seek to better its own achievements, rather than look at other airports.
“The aviation business is very dynamic and competition is good for our business, it keeps us on our toes. Our focus must be to see where else we can improve,” Goh Yong Long, director, marketing and communi-cations, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), says when asked if the UAE’s six-runway Dubai World Central at Jebel Ali (JXB) is a threat to Changi. CAAS spearheads the development of civil aviation in the city-state and runs Changi airport.
The diplomatese notwithstanding, perhaps the one thing that stood out on a recent TTN trip to Changi Airport was the tremendous consumer focus.
“A passenger’s experience is very important, because the passenger chooses which hub he wants to fly through. So an airport needs to be pleasurable,” says Donald Tan, senior air transport manager, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).
While that means catering to travellers’ ongoing pursuit of pleasure with quality consumables and retail therapy, it also means ensuring convenient transfers for the already weary, dehydrated cattle-class tourist.
Travellers with 30 minutes between connections at the same terminal will almost always make their onward flights at Changi, courtesy Singapore’s legendary efficiency. Over at Terminal 1, Tan demonstrates just how the intra-terminal transfers work when code sharing on Qantas, British Airways, Air France and Jet Airways: all the gates are situated down one wing of the terminal, so passengers need merely exit one aircraft and cross the corridor to make their transfer. The minimum transfer time between terminals is one hour, but intra-airline, that can be reduced to 45 minutes.
Says senior air transport manager Ling Ming Koon, “An aircraft on the ground with its engines running is burning fuel. It is in common interest to ensure it leaves in the shortest possible time.”
Among those with a longer transit time, a spot Google search will show that Changi seems to be one of the few airports – up there with Schipol, Sydney and yes, Hong Kong – which passengers don’t seem to mind spending more time in.
A transit passenger – or indeed anyone forced to check in earlier than normal in the face of some ridiculous new security requirements – will pretty much find something of interest. If it’s too early for bars, for instance, or if you don’t share the average Singaporean’s passion for itinerant eating, there’s a classic movie on view free of charge, or better yet, a chance to grab a last-minute tan beside what must be one of the world’s few rooftop airport swimming pools. Gym, free Xbox games, live bands, a free city tour, reflexology and foot massages, all kinds of shopping and best of all, free internet – all of it seems designed to lull the mind into believing one is at Changi Airport for something other than actually catching a flight. “We believe in variety,” says Goh. “Airports must recognise they are part of a traveller’s journey and cannot leave a poor aftertaste.”
This emphasis on turning the airport into a mall benefits business, too: the bulk of Changi’s revenue comes from non-aeronautalical sources (58 per cent or S$567 million ($360.2 million) of a total S$974 million in 204-2005), thus reducing airline costs and boosting the airport-airline relationship, says Tan. “We share a symbiotic relationship with airlines. For new airlines, we will facilitate start-up operations and provide marketing support, and even offer cash incentives or landing and rental rebates to grow traffic.”
Even Changi’s approach to security is efficient: they simply throw on more personnel and extra machines. The traveller only need scan hand luggage and should the airport’s check-in scan show something suspicious, he’s driven from his gate to baggage ID and back, says Ling.
The airport is linked by 80 airlines to 184 cities in 57 countries and saw some 32.4 million passenger move-ments last year. About 22 per cent of total passenger traffic is between Singapore and the Middle East, as of January to June 2006.
The airport expects to set a record of 35 million total passenger movements this year, if the 7.7 per cent growth figure of the first nine months is maintained, according to a Channel News Asia report quoting Lim Hwee Hua, Minister of State for Finance and Transport.
These numbers will rise even further once the airport’s S$1.75 billion, 20-million-capacity Terminal 3 comes into play in early 2008, increasing total capacity to around 64 million. Terminal 2 has just been upgraded at S$240 million and Terminal 1 will be upgraded from 2007 to 2010 at a cost of S$180 million, but both terminals – and runways – are capable of meeting current demands, says Goh, including handling the A380.
So while they’re not saying very much about competing with JXB, the long-term plans are in place: construction of Terminal 4 is likely to begin 10 years into the life of Terminal 3, while land for Terminal 5 is already being reclaimed. “It is important to have capacity ahead of demand, but we don’t want to overbuild too early,” says Goh.
New traffic, says Tan, will come from new and emerging markets, such as India, China and the Middle East (Qatar, Bahrain and Oman) and from Singapore’s two new integrated resorts at Marina and Sentosa.
But one area where Changi needs to catch up with Dubai airport? Duty free. On the journey out of Dubai, TTN purchased a very pleasurable  champagne indeed – and on arrival in Singapore was quizzed on price by staff at Singapore Duty Free, who were decidedly put out to find the same product – but in fancy packaging – retailed in Singapore complete for about an extra Dh40 ($10.9). Which, of course, only served to make the champers that much more enjoyable.