Fresh study to make Changi more attractive

SINGAPORE - What do travellers and airlines look for in an airport? Good services and facilities, nice ambience, low charges, extensive air connections?

As Changi embarks on its biggest expansion drive in more than three decades amid tough competition from rivals in the region, a fresh study is being carried out on what makes an airport competitive and attractive.

The results could affect future developments like Terminals 4 and 5, and impact travellers, industry watchers said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which is behind the study, is also undertaking a review of the rules that govern its operator Changi Airport Group. As the industry's regulator, CAAS sets a cap on the amount of revenue the airport can collect for every passenger.

It will assess how the cap is set and whether the format needs to be fine-tuned.

The aim is to ensure that Changi Airport Group can operate efficiently while maintaining financial viability.

A CAAS spokesman said the studies are being done "given the dynamic nature of the aviation sector". The work will involve identifying, defining and assessing the importance of major factors that could lift Changi's competitiveness as a hub, she said.

The airport's operator is currently regulated based on several factors, including the consumer price index as a measure of inflation - but this "may not be the most appropriate" variable, she said. Private car and housing prices, for example, which affect the consumer price index, do not have a direct impact on airport costs.

Changi Airport Group spokesman Robin Goh said the studies will "hopefully provide insight and recommendations to strengthen the robustness of our business model".

With Asia as the new centre of gravity for global aviation, airports in the region are jostling for existing and new business.

Ms Angela Gittens, director- general of Airports Council International - the global trade body - said that when passengers have an option of two or more nearby airports, the final pick depends on various factors.

"For example, is one airport easier to use? To access, to get through the check-in and security formalities? To navigate? Is one cleaner than another? Does it have better ambience?"

For airlines, deciding where to fly depends on several things, including how attractive a destination is to travellers.

Ms Gittens added: "Airlines look at the cost of doing business at the airport, which is not just the charges but the ability to turn aircraft as quickly as they wish to, for example."

This is especially critical for low-cost carriers such as Singapore's Tigerair and Malaysia's AirAsia, which depend on quick turnarounds and high volumes to drive profits.

Also important are the cost and productivity of labour on the ground, Ms Gittens said. Airports that do not invest to meet airline and traveller expectations will be sidelined, she warned.

One example of this is Jakarta airport which is struggling to cope with growing demand. A week ago, Garuda Indonesia said that due to limited runway capacity, it "has been forced" to postpone the launch of its Boeing 777-300ER Jakarta to London service.


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