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

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.

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

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.

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

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.

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

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.

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

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.

Cosying up

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

Spanning more than 9,100 square feet, with seating for 207, the new Cathay Pacific lounge at T4 makes Singapore the eighth airport in the network to open a lounge based on the design template by London-based Studioilse, led by designer Ilse Crawford.

Never mind the white-hot pace of technology: in the check-in area, the lounge brings Cathay Pacific’s new brand design ethos to life with a relaxing home environment, whether you’re working, eating or relaxing before a flight.

‘The overall feeling of the lounge is of a domestic space – it’s more like a living room than a typical airline lounge,’ says Vallado. The homey feel is evident in the restful colour scheme and warm materials, such as walnut and cherry, bronze and brass, and furniture covered in leather and mohair.

The designer furniture in the main lounge is grouped carefully to allow maximum privacy for individual travellers and easy access to power points.  ‘This also helps to give the impression of a more social, domestic and non-corporate environment,’ says Ellie Chung, assistant manager customer experience – overseas lounge product.

Changi Airport new terminal, Singapore

Food offerings include the ever-popular Noodle Bar, which serves laksa noodles – this is Singapore – alongside wonton soup and dan dan noodles.

If work is a necessity, the Bureau has three Apple desktop computers, along with phones and printers.

Opening hours: daily from 4am-1am

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