SINGAPORE: Reviving Singapore’s air hub safely is a “top and immediate priority” for the Ministry of Transport (MOT), said Minister for Transport Ong Ye Kung on Thursday (Aug 27).
COVID-19 has “decimated” air travel and “set us back decades”, said Mr Ong in his ministry’s addendum to the President’s Address.
However he pointed to how some transit and transfer services for passengers have now resumed with precautionary measures in place.
“We will have to take further steps and implement them carefully and progressively, starting with countries or cities which have kept the virus under control and taking all precautions,” said Mr Ong, who took over at MOT in July.
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In addition, Singapore is actively contributing to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s COVID-19 global response and recovery efforts, as well as helping aviation firms “preserve and enhance their core capabilities” while reskilling workers, he said.
“We will take the opportunity when air traffic volume is down to improve our aviation infrastructure, namely developing a three-runway system,” he said.
“We are reviewing the layout, design, and timeline of Changi Airport Terminal 5 to build a more competitive and resilient terminal for the future,” he added.
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Mr Ong’s predecessor Mr Khaw Boon Wan had announced in June that the construction of Terminal 5 - originally scheduled to be operational in the 2030s - had been put on hold for about two years due to uncertainty over the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation sector.
Mr Ong noted that the Changi air hub has anchored Singapore’s place in the world, making the country “an attractive node” for international business, trade, investment and tourism.
But amid the pandemic Changi Airport has lost about 50 per cent of its air links and more than 95 per cent of scheduled passenger services, he said.
Reiterating a point he made last month, Mr Ong said Singapore cannot “take our hub status for granted and assume that we will remain one when global air travel recovers”.
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In the meantime, the country is establishing new land travel arrangements, he said, pointing to how the Malaysian and Singapore governments are progressively restarting travel through the reciprocal green lane and periodic commuting arrangement.
Mr Ong noted that the two countries had agreed to resume work on the Johor Bahru – Singapore Rapid Transit System Link Project and were in discussions on the Kuala Lumpur – Singapore High Speed Rail Project, which had been suspended until the end of this year at Malaysia’s request.
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Singapore’s maritime sector has also remained relatively resilient, said Mr Ong, adding that the Tuas mega port remains on track to be completed in the 2040s as initially planned.
SUSTAINABLE AND INCLUSIVE LAND TRANSPORT
Mr Ong also touched on public transport, describing it as key to a “greener, fairer and better Singapore”.
Singapore will work towards a sustainable and inclusive land transport system for all, said Mr Ong, as outlined in the 2040 Land Transport Master Plan unveiled last year.
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“We will continue to build engineering capabilities and invest resources in maintaining the reliability and standard of our public transport system,” he said, pointing to “significantly improved” rail reliability and bus services over the last five years.
“In the coming years, we will open new stations and lines almost every year, starting with the remaining stages of Thomson-East Coast Line, to completing Circle Line and opening Jurong Region Line and Cross-Island Line,” he said.
“Expanding the public transport system to better serve Singaporeans requires major infrastructure and recurrent expenditure,” he added. “But this is essential public spending, which has to be carried out with financial prudence.”
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY PROVIDED BY COVID-19
Mr Ong also highlighted MOT’s goal of creating a cleaner and more sustainable transport network for Singapore, noting the lower levels of traffic and new travel patterns brought about by the coronavirus had “opened a window of opportunity to re-imagine our road infrastructure”.
For example, some under-used road lanes could be converted into cycling and bus lanes, while there could also be scope to pedestrianise certain roads, he said.
“COVID-19 has brought about changes in habits, such as more telecommuting, meaningfully staggered working hours and greater use of e-commerce,” said Mr Ong.
“This has led to more sustainable travel patterns. We will explore ways to make some of these changes permanent.”