SINGAPORE: Five years in the making, Changi Airport’s latest extension is touted to be the Jewel in its crown - featuring a lush rainforest, 280 shops and a huge internal waterfall, all encased within a glistening glass dome.
Singapore’s airport has always been known as more than just a place to catch a flight, and visitors will be able to catch a movie in an 11-screen cineplex, buy Pokemon merchandise at the brand’s first official store outside of Japan and gawk at an indoor waterfall when Jewel opens its doors on Wednesday (Apr 17).
With its unique dome-shaped facade of glass and steel, the 10-storey complex will house more than 280 shops and eateries.
The S$1.7 billion complex situated on the former open-air carpark in front of Terminal 1 will also connect the airport’s Terminals 1, 2 and 3 on the landside for the first time.
Changi Airport Group (CAG) managing director for airport operations management, Mr Jayson Goh, told CNA last Thursday that Changi is positioning to be “a lifestyle destination in itself”.
“For locals who already visit Changi Airport regularly on the weekends, we hope that Jewel will have more to offer and give them more reason to visit the airport and spend time with their family and friends here,” Mr Goh said.
PIECE DE RESISTANCE
It is all part of CAG’s strategy for travellers to spend more time there, and to woo more local footfall – but will it work? Industry experts CNA spoke with had different views on the benefits that Jewel will bring.
Mr Shukor Yusof, the founder of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said that the launch of Jewel helps to firm Changi’s grip on the title of “best airport in the world”.
“Jewel is an extension of Changi Airport’s continuous efforts in ensuring the airport not only stays at the top of the global rankings but importantly, attracts more tourists, visitors to Singapore. It marks a new phase for Changi Airport, the piece de resistance to the world’s best airport,” added Mr Yusof.
“Jewel is pretty much like what the pyramid at the Louvre in Paris stands for - a symbol not only of the success Changi Airport has achieved, but also showcasing the sexiness of Singapore.”
His comments came as Changi Airport was ranked best airport in the world for the seventh year running, and was also named best in the world for its leisure amenities in a global survey by London-based research firm Skytrax.
However, Mr Brendan Sobie, chief analyst at CAPA Centre for Aviation felt that Jewel is not “part of (the) equation” for Changi in its ratings, but acknowledged that it will bring financial benefits to CAG.
“You have to take a local perspective when looking at Jewel. It’s a landside shopping mall, and not catered so much for transit passengers. CAG will eventually have more landside revenue, but we won’t know exactly how much because while they are corporatised, they are not publically traded,” said Mr Sobie.
He added that when it comes to airport ratings, “it’s the airside experience and transit experience that counts”.
“Airport ratings compare the transit experience, the arrival and departure, such as check-ins and baggage claims. Hub airports (such as Changi Airport) essentially compete for transit passengers, from passengers coming up from Australia to Europe, or from India to the USA,” said Mr Sobie.
Mr Yusof, added that while Jewel adds to its status as a premiere airport, the addition of Jewel is about “keeping up with the times”. He believes that the development enhances Changi’s iconic silhouette, which used to be just the standalone control tower behind T1.
MORE INFRASTUCTURE ON THE HORIZON
CAG had started expanding T1 in 2015, in conjunction with the development of Jewel and the expansion works are expected to be completed by mid-2019, said the airport operator.
Travellers can expect new check-in counters, a new automated check-in zone and upgrades to the departure and arrival halls, along with the baggage handling system. The expansion will bump up handling capacity by three million passengers per annum (mppa) to 24 mppa, added CAG.
With the launch of Changi Airport’s Runway 3 and T5 on the horizon, Mr Yusof said that the continuation of infrastructure building is the airport operator’s strategy for growth.
“(CAG) continues to be exacting in delivering a seamless travel experience for travellers and over 100 airlines that fly into the airport. The plan, from the look of it, is to solidify Changi’s (and Singapore’s) position as the preferred place to do business in Southeast Asia, if not Asia-Pacific.”
CAG told CNA that T2 will start upgrading works in the fourth quarter of 2019. The project will take up to five years to complete and will increase the terminal’s passenger handling capacity by up to five million to 28 million. As with T1, T2’s upgrades will include new self-service check-in counters and an improved baggage handling system.
Opened in 1990, T2 had its most recent upgrade in 2006.
T5 is expected to be operational around 2030, with a capacity to handle up to 50 mppa in its initial phase. This would bring Changi Airport’s total passenger handling capacity to around 140 mppa.
For 2018, Changi Airport handled 65.6 million passengers, up from 62.2 million the year before, CAG said.
NEED FOR RUNWAY CAPACITY
Both Mr Yusof and Mr Sobie said that there are no fears of overcapacity, with the latter stating that CAG’s “more immediate concern is for runway capacity”.
Changi Airport’s three-runway system is expected to come online in the early 2020s when Runway 3 is opened. CAG had previously said that they will thereafter temporarily close one of the existing runways for maintenance and enhancements.
“There will be short-term concerns for the airlines in (the build up to) Changi’s three-runway system. Airlines have been wanting to add more flights (to Singapore), but they have had difficulty in getting good slots in the last couple of years. Some (slots) have undesirable timings, while others are commercially unviable,” he added.
Mr Sobie elaborated that airlines may have to rely more on apron parking due to a potential lack of gate parking.
This means that passengers may have to either transfer to a bus or take a short walk to the terminal building.
“By the time Changi transitions to a three-runway system, the slot constraints will be quite severe,” he said.
Both analysts are however confident that CAG will eventually be able to resolve its operational constraints in the long-term, with Mr Yusof saying that Changi Airport is primed to remain a key player in the aviation sector.
“Changi and Singapore sit in a sweet spot in Asia’s booming travel market,” added Mr Yusof.