SINGAPORE: Singapore will pause the construction of the fifth terminal at its Changi Airport for at least two years, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Tuesday (Jun 16).
Speaking in a group session with Ministry of Transport (MOT) scholars hosted on video conferencing platform Zoom, Mr Khaw cited "great uncertainties" about the future of the aviation and travel industry amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Khaw said he was "quite confident" the industry will recover, but "big questions remain".
"Until a vaccine is found, will there be a second wave? Will there be a third wave? How fierce will the future waves be? All those will have implications on aviation and tourism ... How do you gain back the confidence of travellers?"
READ: Transport projects like Terminal 5, new MRT stations could be delayed if COVID-19 drags on - Khaw Boon Wan
Hence, Singapore has conducted a "major thorough study" on the future of aviation in the years following the pandemic, said Mr Khaw, though he said answers to the questions would probably not be available within the next few months.
"That's why we've already decided that we will take a pause in the T5 project. Under normal circumstances, if not for COVID-19, we would have to start calling for a major civil engineering tender quite soon ... But we have decided to take a pause for two years.
"Let us complete this study of the future of aviation and it is not just the two years because we need ... to see how the development of the pandemic globally will be like. It will affect T5 and in terms of timing, minimum we will push it back by two years," said Mr Khaw.
Terminal 5 and the Changi East development were originally slated for completion in the 2030s.
Of the four existing terminals at Changi Airport, only Terminals 1 and 3 remain open, with the number of passengers passing through the hub falling 99.5 per cent in April, compared to the same period last year.
Mr Khaw said the pause will allow the authorities to consider changes that need to be made to the project to meet the needs of post-pandemic travel.
"We want to see how the future of travelling will look like," said Mr Khaw, citing major changes in the aviation security regime after the Sep 11 attacks in the US.
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"In the case of a pandemic, in the case of a virus, what are the additional safety features we need to adopt?
"All major airports are testing, experimenting (with the safety features). As we open up the fast lane with China and also in (Phase) 2, as we try out allowing some travellers between certain countries, we ourselves are already experimenting with some of these safety rules."
To meet those safety needs, alterations may need to be made to the current design of the Terminal 5, said the minister.
There are also other operational changes that need to be considered.
For example, while Changi Airport's passenger load has come down, cargo traffic remains, with Singapore Airlines and other major airlines loading cargo goods into their passenger cabins.
"All those would have implications on how airlines interact with the airport and how to do it in a seamless and efficient manner (which) will have implications on layout and airport design," said Mr Khaw.
"So for all these various reasons, we think that this decision to take a pause for a couple of years, while we finalise a much better design to suit the future of aviation, is wise."
Overall, Mr Khaw said he was optimistic that the Changi air hub would continue to expand with demand and that aviation in the Asia-Pacific would continue to grow.