Changi Airport, which is already one of the busiest and largest airports in the world, is undergoing a massive expansion program that includes a new “mega” terminal, known as Terminal 5, and a third runway. 

The third runway already exists and is a military runway that is being lengthened to 4 km, same length as the other two runways, and being connected to the passenger terminals with construction of new taxiways. 

This third runway is due to be operational in the early 2020s and will increase the airport’s aircraft movement capacity enormously. 

Changi Airport opened Terminal 4 on October 31, leading many consumers in Singapore to wonder why the airport needs to build Terminal 5 so soon. Terminal 4 increased the airport’s passenger capacity by 16 million passengers per annum, to 82 million. Terminal 5 will increase passenger capacity by a further 50 million passengers per annum, to 132 million passenger capacity per annum, when it opens in 2030 or thereabouts. 

The airport had 62.2 million passengers in 2017, representing year-on-year growth of 6%. 

Changi Airport Group (CAG) tells ShowNews that Terminal 5 is necessary to cater to future growth. “Demand for air travel in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to triple over the next two decades. At Changi, we are expecting a growth rate of passenger movements averaging 3-4% per annum over the next 20 years,” says a CAG spokeswoman.

CAG is known in the industry to be very proactive when it comes to encouraging airlines to launch services to Singapore. It offers incentives to airlines, but the airport group has faced some setbacks in recent years. This is because some airlines that launched services to Changi later quietly withdrew. Notable examples are Oman Air, Sriwijaya Air, Hong Kong Airlines and China’s Lucky Air.

There was also the decision by Qantas Airways’ long-haul operation in 2013 to bypass Singapore altogether and instead use Dubai as its transit hub for Europe. 

But CAG’s spokeswoman is quick to point out that Changi has won Qantas’ long-haul operation back. Starting next month Qantas’ A380s will be stopping in Singapore when going to and from Europe. 

“Qantas will be returning with a daily Singapore-London service via Singapore that will see a significant increase in seat capacity between Singapore and Australia,” she adds. 

She also says Lufthansa German Airlines will be resuming services on the Munich-Singapore route in March with a five-times weekly service. In addition, LOT Polish Airlines will be launching a new service between Singapore and Warsaw in May 2018, while Singapore Airlines’ low-cost long-haul airline Scoot will launch a Singapore-Berlin service in June, says the spokeswoman. 

It could be argued, however, that Terminal 5 will be filled not so much by passengers coming from Europe, but rather by passengers from Asia traveling to different destinations in Asia and beyond via Singapore. 

Singapore – like other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Thailand – has been benefiting from a large influx of tourists from mainland China. This trend appears set to continue. 

Much of the growth in passenger traffic from mainland China is not coming from the big three cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – but rather from the second- and third-tier cities in China. 

“We will continue to pursue new opportunities to develop our connectivity to China’s emerging cities, such as Taiyuan, Hefei and Nanchang,” says CAG’s spokeswoman, referring to just some of the many second- and third-tier cities in China that Singapore can tap for passenger growth.

She also says Changi is seeking growth opportunities by targeting Central Asia, countries such as Kazakhstan, as well as Mongolia and the many cities in Russia. “We are also looking to establish city links in Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East region,” she adds.

There’s also another very big source of passengers that Changi is tapping and can tap even more in future: Indonesia. 

Jakarta’s international airport – Soekarno-Hatta International Airport – is subject to slot constraints. The Indonesian government is facing difficulties expanding the airport, because there are residential buildings all around the perimeter of the airport and in Indonesia evicting people from their homes can be difficult. 

There has been talk for many years about building a new international airport to serve Jakarta, but this too has been bogged down by bureaucratic delays. It means that as international traffic from Indonesia’s other cities – Surabaya, Medan, Bandung, etc. – grows, the passenger traffic is increasingly being funneled direct into Singapore’s Changi Airport rather than being routed through Jakarta, which has no spare capacity to cater to this growth opportunity.