AIR traffic controllers in Singapore will have their work cut out for them, with the number of flights possibly doubling by the time Changi Airport Terminal 5 opens at the end of the next decade.
Significant investments in air traffic management systems are needed to ensure the safety of the billions of people who fly every year.
This is a key area of focus for Singapore, said Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo.
By the end of the next decade, Singapore could handle 700,000 flights a year, twice as many as now, she told reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore Airshow yesterday.
On top of the 350,000 flights that Changi handled last year, there were another 300,000 flights that cut across Singapore skies.
Mrs Teo said: "It's not going to be enough just to build airport capacity and have lots of room for airlines to move in and out, because if you don't have the air traffic management capabilities, you won't be able to deal with the capacity."
By the time T4 opens in the second half of next year and the first phase of T5 is ready by the end of the next decade, Changi would have more than doubled its current annual passenger handling capacity of 66 million travellers.
Singapore has launched several initiatives to boost air traffic management capabilities and capacity.
For example, the separation between planes, especially during peak periods, has been reduced to allow more flights to land and take off.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) also works closely with Changi Airport Group to minimise runway closure times for maintenance and other works.
In 2012, the CAAS set up a $200 million fund to conduct research into air traffic management.
So far, about $120 million has been earmarked for various projects, Mrs Teo said.
Apart from Singapore beefing up its capabilities, it is also vital for countries in the region to co-operate to ensure that flights can be managed efficiently and safely, she said, adding that air traffic controllers cannot work in silos.
"You are only as efficient as whoever it is around you that you take over flights from and you hand over flights to. The ability to do that in a smooth and efficient manner is also very important," Mrs Teo said.
The European Union (EU) is happy to share its experience with ASEAN's 10-member states, European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc told The Straits Times earlier this week. Both blocs have started working to seal the world's first-ever bloc-to-bloc open skies deal.
This will allow ASEAN carriers and airlines based in the EU's 28-member countries to fly freely between the two regions.
The need to beef up air traffic capabilities will become more urgent as ASEAN moves towards open skies within the region, industry experts said.
While much progress has been made in the push for liberalisation, work remains.
Indonesia, for example, has yet to ratify a deal which was to have been sealed at the end of last year, to allow ASEAN airlines free access into all Indonesian points.
Mrs Teo said, however, that she is encouraged by the tone and stance that Indonesian President Joko Widodo has adopted.
"He has indicated that Indonesia very much welcomes foreign investments and he wants to strengthen this aspect of his administration...
"Air connectivity and the ASEAN open skies feed directly into what he hopes to achieve for Indonesia."
She added: "When they are able to ratify ASEAN open skies, it will provide a major impetus for the ASEAN economic community to come together in a stronger way."
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