The Managing Director of Airport Operations Management at Singapore’s main gateway gives us an update on contactless innovations and measures for protecting frontline workers.
For the past year, Singapore Changi Airport has taken a very pragmatic approach when it comes to transit flights. What role does CAG play in discussions between airlines and the CAAS on restoring those connections?
Airlines must submit their proposals to the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore for transfer lanes through Changi Airport. Changi Airport Group (CAG) works closely with airlines to ensure the proposals are well-planned and considerations made for aviation safety, public health, as well as the health and safety of passengers and aircrew.
Beyond assisting airlines, we also work with various airport partners to ensure a pleasant and stress-free passenger experience at Changi. Current regulations require all transit passengers, apart from those arriving from countries that Singapore has lifted border restrictions with, to remain in designated areas while waiting for their connecting flight, as well as adhere to Safe Distancing Measures and always have a mask on.
Upon arrival at Changi Airport, transiting passengers are escorted to a Transit Holding Area (THA) while they wait for their next flight. Here, we have arranged for comfortable seating, snooze areas, internet stations and other facilities so that passengers can wait comfortably. Passengers can also purchase light meals and drinks from the vending machines, or order food from selected airport F&B outlets and have it delivered to the THA. Passengers can also make tax-free purchases via Changi Airport’s e-commerce website iShopChangi or through a shopping concierge service, and have their purchases delivered to them safely.
Changi Airport Group was already going through an automation process even before the pandemic hit. What can travelers these days expect in terms of contactless features or experiences?
Today, Changi Airport offers a zero-contact terminal throughout the entire departure process. Passengers can expect a safe and contactless experience from check-in to boarding. Self-service kiosks and bag-drops are fitted with proximity sensors, so passengers do not need to touch the screens to check in or drop off their bags.
Similarly, many lift buttons across Changi Airport are contactless and passengers just need to hover their fingers over the buttons. At immigration, auto-clearance lanes use face and iris recognition technology for identification, so passengers no longer need to scan their fingerprints.
To give passengers more control over their travel journey, we have been running trials to enhance the traveler experience even more. For example, ChangiQ allows passengers to book their preferred timeslot for check-in and boarding through our iChangi app even before they reach the airport.
Changi is also carrying out a trial to read and verify digital travel passes issued by various players for both departing and arriving passengers. This not only saves time for passengers; they can also be assured that other travelers on the same flight have passed the necessary health requirements. More than 10 airlines are currently on this trial, potentially benefitting 85 percent of travelers passing through Changi.
April saw the launch of CAG’s Safe Travel Concierge to help people navigate the various pre-departure requirements. How has the uptake been so far and what other initiatives are there in the pipeline?
The Safe Travel Concierge (STC) is an online concierge service that allows arriving passengers to book their on-arrival Covid-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and check that they have completed all pre-travel requirements for a safe and smooth entry into Singapore before their arrival.
With STC, travelers no longer need to go through multiple websites to search out and complete their pre-travel requirements. It is easily accessible through a web browser, and through our iChangi app, if passengers have already downloaded it previously. Similarly, departing passengers can also check travel entry requirements of their destination country, as well as book their preferred timeslot for check-in and boarding via ChangiQ (mentioned earlier), for a safer and more seamless travel journey.
We have a dedicated team that keeps track of the latest developments and changes in border regulations worldwide to ensure the STC stays updated and relevant. Based on the feedback we have received, most users are satisfied with the platform, especially the convenience of making on-arrival Covid-19 test bookings as a group. Changi has been monitoring the portal and we are encouraged by the number of people using it since the launch. As border regulations continue to evolve, we urge passengers traveling to Singapore to use the STC for a smooth arrival at Changi Airport.
It’s an enormous challenge to run an international aviation hub at this time. How is CAG managing interactions between airport workers, travelers, and members of the public to reduce the risk of cross-infection?
Stringent safety protocols have been implemented at Changi Airport since the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. Arriving passengers are segregated based on travel history, and kept apart from others in the airport from the time they disembark, through to immigration and their PCR test, and onwards to their designated accommodation.
With more transmissible Covid-19 variants emerging, we introduced even more infection-control measures in May 2021 to ensure airport workers, passengers and visitors continue to be well-protected. This includes segregation of the airport’s terminals into zones to prevent mingling and interaction of staff on duty in the specific zones. Personal protective equipment protection (PPE) guidelines for airport workers have also been enhanced, with additional training for airport workers on the proper donning and doffing of PPEs, as well as audits to also ensure that staff are properly attired. There are also signs to remind staff of the required PPE levels prior to entering the zones, and other personal hygiene reminders. In addition, staff are not deployed across zones to reduce the risk of possible cross-infection.
As vaccination reduces the risk of virus transmission, we have made it a priority to facilitate vaccination among airport workers and to date, more than 90 percent of frontline aviation workers have been vaccinated.
What procedures are in place to protect frontline workers at CAG? Are they subject to a regular testing regimen even after vaccination?
Airport workers in higher risk roles are protected in the highest-level PPE and segregated from other workers throughout their shift. They have their own dining areas with individual seating, rest areas, reserved toilets and dedicated PPE donning and doffing stations.
In addition, they go through PCR as well as Antigen Rapid Tests (ART) every week. We are looking to progressively replace the ART with the breath analyzer for more airport workers as they will be able to receive their results faster than the ART. More importantly, they will also experience less discomfort as the test is non-invasive. The robust testing regime will give airport workers added peace of mind when they return home to their families at the end of the day.
Have passenger traffic numbers improved in the past few months? And when do you expect to see a full recovery to 2019 levels?
For the first half of 2021, Changi Airport registered over 951,000 passenger movements. While this is nowhere close to pre-pandemic levels, there has been a year-on-year increase in the second quarter compared to 2020.
With Singapore’s drive to achieve a high vaccination rate and indications that leisure travel may restart by year end, we expect air travel to gradually recover. Both IATA and ACI have projected international air travel to recover to pre-pandemic levels around 2024.
The global situation remains highly volatile, and this is seen in the resurgence of the virus in countries which were thought to have been out of the woods.
As the situation continues to evolve, we believe the key is to always stay nimble to meet high standards of hygiene, work closely with our partners to support one another and be able to adapt quickly in the face of different situations to enable safe travel for all our passengers amid the pandemic.
How has the current crisis impacted cargo operations at Changi?
Global travel restrictions and lockdown measures have continued to cause a deficit in airfreight capacity. Despite this, Changi Airport’s air trades remained relatively resilient. The airport handled over 1.5 million tonnes of cargo in 2020 and over 900,000 tonnes in the first half of 2021. Based on the latest monthly statistics, total airfreight throughput at Changi has returned to pre-pandemic levels.
We continue to work closely with our air cargo community to secure critical air connectivity and enhance cold chain handling standards. We see the pharmaceutical cargo vertical as a long-term driver of our air cargo throughput and recognize the importance of supporting the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines into Singapore and onward to the region with the highest standards of security, transparency, agility and reliability.
Jewel Changi Airport became an instant hit after opening in 2019. Given its success, does CAG have further plans to create more publicly accessible attractions?
Since the opening of Jewel Changi Airport, we have continued to seek out novel experiences, new-to market brands and new-concept stores which will bring novelty to the Jewel experience.
We continue to innovate and look out for new experiences to delight our visitors and passengers. In October 2020, we opened the Changi Airport Connector, a 3.5-km cycling and jogging path that links Changi Airport to East Coast Park and the nationwide Park Connector Network. We recognized that local tourism is an opportunity we can tap into during this period of restricted travel, hence we injected new experiential outdoor elements along the connector, creating a new attraction with Singapore’s largest permanent outdoor display of life-sized dinosaurs – Changi Jurassic Mile.
In the same vein, we have been working with the Singapore Tourism Board and various stakeholders to develop the Changi Precinct – an area covering the East of Singapore where you can find rustic nature spots, historical landmarks, and many undiscovered gems. As an extension of our efforts to promote domestic tourism, we hope to encourage locals to explore the vicinity surrounding Changi Airport, and in the longer term, strengthen the appeal of Changi Airport as a destination, and also Singapore’s tourism appeal when travel resumes.
Within the grounds of Changi Airport, every year, we organize a series of family-friendly activities and attractions across the airport to bring new experiences to our visitors. In November 2020, we launched Changi Festive Village, with exciting activities such as a dino-themed night go-karting experience at Terminal 4, glamp-cations under the stars at Jewel Changi Airport and a 12-meter-long snow luge at Terminal 3.