Petir Explains: Why is S’pore building a T5 when there are already 4 terminals?

You’ve definitely had that moment in conversation with foreign friends or business partners where Changi Airport gets brought up. “The airport! It’s amazing! We were there and it was. So. Grand!”

Fair enough. Changi’s a bit better than other airports out there and you know it; you’ve been around. There’s Terminal 4 these days, for example. It’s straight out of Avatar with its indoor waterfall and great, green spaces. That your friends know what a gem (or should we say Jewel?) Changi is?

Next time Changi Airport is in the conversation, value-add. Tell them that Terminal 5 (T5) is coming in the mid-2030s. And that even the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself is keen on it.

“Here are T1 to T4. And this is T5 –T1, 2, 3, and 4. T5 is as big as all of these put together,” said Prime Minister Lee, pointing to an on-screen map of Changi at the National Day Rally this August.

“In terms of capacity, T5 will have 50 million passengers, which is equal to T1 plus T3. But if you look at the way the airport is built, all the new part of the airport, T5 and all these new half, in fact, we are building one more new Changi Airport,” he added.

“It is huge.”

Indeed. It is chonk.

Why does Singapore need T5, though? T4 definitely wasn’t that long ago, and you might remember when Changi expanded with T3, and T2 even earlier.  

Some interlinked reasons spring to mind: Increased tourism all round. A resurgent Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE) sector in particular. Travel methods needing changes and future-proofing considering this pandemic. Making great first and last impressions on your friends for Brand Singapore.

All these reasons link back to just exactly what Changi Airport does for Singapore, in fact.

Keeping Singapore thriving and connected 

Changi Airport’s grown with Singapore. It had just one terminal and one runway when its first flight (a Kuala Lumpur-Singapore journey) landed the morning of July 1, 1981 at the east end of our island.

Over 8.1 million passengers moved through Changi that year. By the end of 1990, when T2 opened to better serve Singapore’s needs, this figure had increased to 15.6 million.

Similarly, T3’s January 2008 opening helped Changi move nearly 37.7 million passengers for that year. And the end-2017 addition of T4? 65.6 million passenger movements and 2.1 million tonnes of air freight movements the following year.  

This constantly upward trajectory was enough to make Changi the world’s 18th busiest airport in 2019.

In real terms, Changi is a major contributor to the economy.

It supports a total of 375,000 jobs directly and indirectly, according to 2017 figures from Oxford Economics.

These jobs go beyond airline and airport operations ones; that’s just 119,000.

Goods and services bought by these air transport sector workers (26,000 jobs), maintaining Singapore’s supply chain (78,000 jobs) and foreign tourist spending (152,000 jobs)  

It contributes to over one-tenth of Singapore’s GDP; a total of US$36.6 billion in 2017 from air transport (US$22.1 billion) and foreign tourist spending (S$14.5 billion).  

Changi is also Singapore’s main gateway to the world and vice-versa. Especially important with global air travel set to double in the 20 years between 2016 and 2036 — 7.8 billion passenger movements annually.

Air travel and MICE are growing

More than half of this increase in air passenger movement will come from right here in the Asia-Pacific too.

“An extra 2.35 billion annual passengers by 2037, for a total market size of 3.9 billion passengers,” mentioned an International Air Transport Association (IATA) article about our region’s future.

The IATA article also noted that that our region’s compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is the air transport sector’s highest worldwide at 4.8 per cent.   

So there’ll be T5, finishing in time for Singapore to tap upon the booming air sector as well as keeping Singapore a preferred choice for air travellers.   

That’s why T5’s hugeness. More specifically, it’s being built next to Changi Airport on a site about the size of a town (1,080 hectares). Its three new runways, inter-terminal skytrain, over 100 departure gates, on-site fire station need this space.

T5’s also chonk because it’s an approximately S$10 billion investment.

But once it matures (like how T1-T4 make excellent economic sense), that money’ll all be well-timed and juuust right for Singapore.

Not least because the aforementioned MICE sector, currently resurgent, is set to grow in annual value by about 50 per cent to US$1.78 billion by 2030.

MICE result in more MICE too. Around 25 events attracting about 90,000 delegates sprang up around this year’s Formula 1 (F1) race, in the same pattern as previous pre-pandemic years.

This is partly from a very natural “I’m here already, might as well do this other thing” attitude which participants and organisers both share. Like how that one American businessman dropped over S$40,000 on the F1 race while here for the Asia Crypto Week conference.

Here, the soon-to-be-nationalised Singapore Sports Hub also looks to be in prime position to bring in similar flagship events.    

So, with Singapore’s consistent ranking as the Asia-Pacific’s top spot for MICE events, as well as more new ones coming in future years, T5 will keep traffic flowing across these valuable world-class connections.

Preparedness for pandemics

T5 is also developed as a travel hub for a post-pandemic world where large-scale disease outbreaks have and will continue to happen regularly.

A person has a 38 per cent chance of observing a pandemic similar to Covid-19 in his or her lifetime, research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has found, also warning that this probability may double in the coming decades.

The infectious disease specialist Paul Pronyk of Duke-NUS’s Centre for Outbreak Preparedness noted this inevitability, where “Asia is one of the most high-risk regions in the world for human outbreaks, and I can guarantee you that Covid-19 is not going to be our past.”  

“Pathogens are not contained within borders,” he added.

So here, T5 is being built #evenbetter as pandemic-resilient.

T5, for all its size, will be flexible. It can operate as smaller sub-terminals when needed.

Plus, that huge space’s fantastic for contingency operations: Testing operations can take place there. It can properly segregate high-risk passengers.

“Airports are designed for convergence of streams of passengers. And yet when you’re in a pandemic-type situation, the objective is really to separate the streams as much as we can according to their risk categorisation,” said Minister for Transport S Iswaran early this month (Oct 3).

“That inverts the logic of airport operations,” he explained.

“And so it’s something that has to be factored into design early, not just in terms of processes, but in terms of actual physical design.”

T5 will also include contactless systems at passenger touchpoints, as well as enhanced ventilation systems for minimising the mixing of air within.

This way, T5’s a major step towards ensuring that what spreads not pandemic pathogens, but touristy travel.

Brand Singapore

Lastly, those foreign friends mentioned at the start and here at the end of this instalment of Petir Explains matter too.

Rather similarly, for those 50 million annual passengers moving through its pandemic-ready interiors and likely through the expanding MICE ecosystem outside, T5 will be their first impression of Singapore.

Such an impression has a major role in advancing Brand Singapore, where our nation’s immediately well-regarded enough to attract tourists, talents, investments and business for making it even more successful.

Positive word-of-mouth, like for Singapore’s top-tier MICE ecosystem and present-day Changi’s constant best-airport-in-the-world status, spreads and sticks.

Those individual impressions, in turn, can combine. Together, they spark large-scale decisions.

Here, getting to and exiting Singapore with T5 not being a chore but an experience.

Like PM Lee laid out at the National Day Rally, T5 is sending “a strong and clear signal to the world that Singapore is emerging stronger from the pandemic, and charging full steam ahead.”

Cover photo credit: Changi Airport Group Facebook