Singapore Air Show

Changi Aims To Handle Burgeoning Traffic

 - February 15, 2012, 1:45 AM
Among recent new carriers here at Singapore Changi Airport is Finnair, which operates daily nonstop flights from Helsinki. The service represents Changi’s first new European route since the launch of Lufthansa’s Singapore-Munich service in June 2008.

After an eventful 2011 that saw double-digit growth in passenger and aircraft numbers, Singapore is working to improve Changi Airport’s customer experience and global connections. “Despite continuing economic uncertainty and environmental factors, we continue to develop the hub,” according to Changi Airport Group (CAG) chief executive Lee Seow Hiang.

CAG has recognized that continuing growth will increase pressure on the airport’s ground and air traffic capacity, so it is monitoring developments in conjunction with airlines and Singapore authorities as the global economic problems continues. “The outlook for 2012 remains hazy, with the aviation industry expected to face volatile conditions. Demand for travel may moderate as a result of more subdued consumer confidence,” said Lee last month, while announcing results for 2011. The group, which was previously part of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, was formed in June 2009, followed on July 1, 2009, by corporatization of Singapore Changi Airport.

Changi is involved in two new projects scheduled for completion this year: a major upgrade of Terminal 1 (T1) and plans for a joint venture to develop airports in Russia. The T1 work, estimated to cost about $500 million, aims to improve passenger flow at key areas and to refurbish the interior design and exterior façade.

Under the proposed joint venture, the group’s wholly owned Changi Airports International (CAI) subsidiary, which invests in and manages foreign airports, has established a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Basic Element Group and Sberbank Investments to develop an existing cluster of airports in the Krasnodar region. Recent CAI investments include a 26-percent stake in India’s Bengal Aerotropolis project and an 8-percent share of Aeroporti di Roma holding company Gemina.

CAI will hold 30 percent of the planned joint venture, Basic Element 50 percent plus one share and Sberbank Investments will take 20 percent minus one share. Basic Element’s airports, which include Sochi and Krasnodar, handle about five million passengers per year. The partnership expects to improve service levels at Russian airports to meet international standards, increase capitalization of the assets and expand the portfolio of airport assets.

The activities come as Changi celebrates a record performance in 2011, when the airport handled 46.5 million passengers (more than nine times the size of Singapore’s population) and 302,000 aircraft movements, increases over 2010 of 10.7 percent and 14.5 percent, respectively. Air freight movements grew by 2.8 percent to 1.87 million metric tons, which represented a recovery to 2008 pre-recession cargo levels.

Busiest-ever Month

Last year ended with the airport’s busiest-ever month: 4.53 million passengers, 11.4 percent more than in December 2010. Its record for daily business also was broken, with 165,000 passengers passing through on December 17–an 11-percent increase on the previous mark set just five months previously.

December 2011 also saw 27,700 aircraft movements, a gain of 16 percent on 12 months earlier. The month generated a 6.9-percent increase in airfreight to 167,000 metric tons, the airport’s busiest month in three years

The calendar year 2011 performance followed improved CAG financial activity in the past financial year to March 31. Before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, the group earned S$617 million ($463 million) and S$337 million ($253 million) after tax, equivalent to increases of 14.2 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively over the previous year. CAG attributed the result to “the strong economic rebound in Singapore and the region during the year, successful retail campaigns, concerted efforts to market the Changi air hub and better procurement management.”

The airport claims to have “retained its position as one of the world’s most connected air hubs,” with 11 new destinations introduced last year, including its first connection to South America (Singapore Airlines to São Paolo, Brazil, via Spanish city Barcelona). The airport serves some 100 airlines flying to more than 210 cities in about 60 countries and territories. With its strategic location “at the crossroads of China, India and Australia,” Changi sees itself as “an ideal air hub for airlines to tap Asia’s growth.”

Regional Demand

A key growth driver for the airport in 2011 was strong travel demand in the Asia Pacific region. Southeast and northeast Asia were the two best-performing regions, each registering double-digit growth, while traffic to/from south Asia and southwest Pacific also are reported to have enjoyed good growth. During its 30-year history, the airport has established a business operation that offers 5,200 weekly flights and more than 550,000 weekly outbound seats to the latter regions.

Now, Changi is aiming to extend its route network by focusing on growth markets such as China and India. More than 600 flights per week connect Singapore to 25 Chinese cities, including new 2011 destinations Changsha, Nanning, Ningbo and Zhengzhou.

Last September, the airport welcomed IndiGo Airlines, India’s largest low-cost carrier (LCC). The operator flies daily to New Delhi and Mumbai, bringing total Singapore links to the Indian subcontinent to 380 per week (with connections to 11 destinations). Singapore claims that Changi’s extensive reach into China and India makes it Southeast Asia’s most connected point to the two countries. The arrival of Lao Airlines at Changi last November, with service to Laos’s capital Vientiane, means the airport is now linked directly to all nine of Singapore’s neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and 47 cities in Southeast Asia.

Traffic and Airlines Grow

Elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region, travel to Japan recovered in the second half of last year from a significant drop immediately after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, with Tokyo retaining its position as one of Singapore’s busiest air routes. Overall, passenger traffic between the two states grew by 2 percent, supported by travel-industry efforts to revive demand.

Long-haul traffic between Singapore and Europe has continued to increase, with the inauguration of a daily Finnair nonstop Helsinki-Singapore service and introduction of Lufthansa’s Airbus A380 service from Frankfurt. Notably, Changi is now the world’s busiest multi-carrier A380 hub, with more than 200 flights a week by Lufthansa, Qantas and Singapore Airlines to 10 cities: Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo and Zurich.

Altogether, seven new carriers joined Changi’s family last year, including Air Macau, Hong Kong Airlines and Taiwanese carrier TransAsia Airways. This year, the airport is handling more than 6,300 scheduled flights each week, an increase of 16.7 percent from a year ago.

Such has been the growth in LCC operations at Singapore, expanding rapidly since commencement about six years ago, that CAG has expanded its dedicated Budget Terminal to provide annual capacity for seven million passengers, up from the earlier 2.7 million. Indeed, last year LCCs at Singapore carried 26.3 percent more passengers than in 2010, compared with growth among “full-service” airlines of just 6.2 percent (although from a larger base).

The proportion of budget airline flights at Changi also has grown, accounting for 28.6 percent in 2011, against 26.3 percent 12 months earlier. A quarter of all Changi passengers traveled on LCCs last year, compared with about one in five in 2010.

Changi’s cargo business also is continuing to grow. Last year saw the introduction of freight flights to Chengdu and Chongqing in China, and the arrival of dedicated flights by Emirates Cargo and Lufthansa Cargo. Meanwhile, Cargolux and Cathay Pacific Cargo each began to serve Singapore with the new Boeing 747-8F.