The Straits Times/Asia News Network
The Transit Holding Area in Changi Airport Terminal 3 (Changi Airport Group via The Straits Times/File)
With a cloud hanging over the future of aviation, Singapore has halted construction of the upcoming mega Changi Airport Terminal 5 for at least two years, and will review its scale and design.
Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Tuesday that the project will not resume until the Republic has undertaken a study on prospects for the sector which has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Big questions remain, and we don't think we will get the answers very quickly within the next few months," said Mr Khaw.
"It may take us a couple of years, and that is why we have decided to take a pause in the T5 project... So at the minimum, I think we will push it back by two years."
The Changi Airport T5 project was scheduled to be completed in the 2030s. It was earmarked to provide future capacity for the airport to ride on the projected growth in air travel.
From 85 million passengers a year currently, Changi Airport planned to have the capacity to handle 140 million a year - with T5 alone being able to handle up to 50 million passengers per year in its initial phase.
It held the key to Singapore retaining its status as an aviation hub, analysts said.
But now, instead of calling for major civil engineering tenders that the initial timelines would have demanded, the Government will review the additional safety features that will need to be built into T5, Mr Khaw told scholarship holders under the Transport Ministry's agencies in an online engagement session.
"In the case of the virus, what are the additional safety features we need to adopt?" he said. "All major airports are testing and experimenting... We are already experimenting with some of these safety rules."
Mr Khaw said the continuous stream of cargo traffic going through the airport despite reduced passenger traffic will be considered in the review of T5's design.
The Changi air hub contributes more than 5 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product and employs 192,000 people.
While all air hubs globally have been hit hard by the pandemic, International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac said the worst part of the collapse in air traffic is likely over, provided there is not a second and more damaging wave of COVID-19 infections.
In April, Changi Airport handled just 25,200 passenger movements, a 99.5 percent drop from the same time last year.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a national address on Sunday that all of Singapore's major infrastructure projects, including T5, will be completed, although timelines may shift based on demand.
Experts said the move to delay T5 was sensible.
Mr Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics said: "It is tough to visualise what 2030 and beyond holds, since the virus has changed the world as we know it. The design will have to take into account the reality that Changi may not see such volumes as had been forecast earlier."
But Mr Subhas Menon, director-general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, said major aviation infrastructure projects in the region, such as T5, will still be needed when air travel picks up again.
"If (the passenger volume) gets back to what it was last year, it is already a good volume. Many places were already feeling infrastructure constraints.
"So I think in the long term, all these projects will come in handy."
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