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    Cathay Pacific
    Changi Airport: A new S$985 million home in Singapore
    As Changi opens its new terminal, Phil Heard looks at the friendly rivalry between Asia’s two great aviation hubs
    A sculpture at Singapore Changi airport Terminal 4. Credit: Changi Airport Group
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    Both are cities where space is at a premium. Both operate major air hubs that punch way above their weight in terms of their relative populations.

    Now both Singapore’s Changi Airport and Hong Kong International Airport are planning, building and developing better facilities for the aviation boom to come. Over the next 20 years, the International Air Transport Association predicts global passenger numbers will double from 3.8 billion in 2016 to 7.2 billion by 2035, driven by demand in the Asia-Pacific region.

    While the incoming wave will no doubt bring challenges, these two aviation powerhouses have long been preparing.

    Singapore was one of the first destinations on Cathay Pacific’s route network along with Manila, Yangon, Macau and Bangkok. The airline now flies nine times a day to Singapore, including one flight via Bangkok.

    Like Hong Kong, it too has experienced congestion from its success. Just as Hong Kong International Airport had to escape the cramped, city-locked Kai Tak Airport, so too were Singapore’s civil airfields ill equipped to cope with burgeoning passenger numbers.

    Cathay Pacific's Convair 880 VR-HFS at Singapore Paya Lebar airport. Credit: Swire Archive

    Credit: Swire Archive

    Changi is actually Singapore’s fourth civil airport and follows on from Kallang, which welcomed Cathay Pacific’s maiden flight in 1946; and Paya Lebar, which opened in 1955 with one terminal and a single runway. That was fine for the 300,000 passengers in its first year of operations, but by 1975 with four million passengers passing through, it was running at maximum capacity.

    The options were to expand with a new runway and terminal, or look for a new site. In 1975, the Singapore government opted for the latter. A year later, the Hong Kong authorities identified a small island called Chek Lap Kok as a possible home for its new airport.

    In Singapore, eyes turned to the coastal military air base at Changi, 17 kilometres north of the Marina Bay complex. Land reclamation would offer limitless future expansion and the option of routing air traffic over the water to minimise noise.

    The new Changi Airport opened at the end of 1981 with one runway, and work commenced immediately on a second. The philosophy has always been to grow ahead of the capacity curve to avoid a repeat of the gridlocked 1970s. It has been ahead of the curve, too, in terms of developments in aviation, opening Asia’s first budget carrier terminal, a VIP terminal, plus infrastructure works for the giant Airbus A380 – Singapore Airlines was the launch customer in 2007.

    Last year, Changi handled nearly 59 million passengers – 11 million fewer than Hong Kong International Airport.

    Terminal 4 at Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Changi Airport Group

    Credit: Changi Airport Group

    Now, the latest phase of its development has been unveiled. On 31 October, Terminal 4 opened, an elegant and futuristic vision for airport facilities. Built on the site of the existing budget carrier terminal at a cost of S$985 million (HK$5.6 billion), T4 will handle 16 million passengers a year, both budget and full service airlines – including Cathay Pacific.

    In fact, Cathay Pacific is one of the first two airlines operating from T4, having moved its operations from T1 overnight to be in place for the opening morning.

    That includes the new Cathay Pacific lounge , which brings with it the styling and warmth of its showcase lounges at Hong Kong and London Heathrow.

    ‘After CX714 departed Terminal 1 at 1:15am, the team was in place for the scheduled arrival of CX659 at 5:25 later that morning at our new Terminal 4 home,’ says Dominic Vallado, Cathay Pacific’s airport services manager in Singapore.

    A sculpture in Terminal 4 at Singapore Changi Airport. Credit: Changi Airport Group

    Credit: Changi Airport Group

    So what can passengers expect in the new terminal? For one thing, a high-tech check-in experience using the Fast (Fast and Seamless Travel) protocol. That means greater use of technology, including facial recognition and self-service. Singaporeans and residents will be able to breeze through an automated immigration process, scanning their own documents.

    Vallado adds: ‘The complete suite of Fast at Terminal 4, with advanced facial recognition technology at auto bag drops and auto-immigration will ensure a seamless, stress-free flow for our customers.’

    With automated immigration checks becoming more common around the world, auto-boarding is the new frontier.

    At T4, passengers able to use automated immigration just need to scan their boarding pass at the gate and their identity will be authenticated by a facial recognition system. ‘It illustrates our strategy to drive the future airport and customer experience,’ says Vallado. ‘The new high-tech airport experience, coupled with our signature lounge, shows our clear focus on the customer.’

    With big reclamation projects of its own and a new runway to come, it’s over to you, Hong Kong. The new terminal and third runway at Chek Lap Kok will be complete by the mid-2020s. But if their past is anything to go by the developments at these two great hubs continue – with passengers the clear winners at both airports.

    Hero image: Changi Airport Group

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