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Reviving our Air Hub; COVID-19 set us back by at least 40 years

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The airport, together with the seaport, are our lifelines, the two lungs of Singapore.

COVID-19 has incapacitated one of our lungs, the airport.

We used to register around 1000 flights a day but now it is reduced to just about 150 a day.

Compared to the pre-COVID-19 volume of 20 million a year, today Changi Airport is serving only a trickle of around 400 transfer and transit passengers a day. This is the equivalent of 150,000 a year.

COVID-19 has set us back by 40 years to 1981 when Terminal 1 was open.

“But there is a big difference between then and now,” Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said in his National Day Message to MOT.

“In the early 1980s, many airlines had not decided to come to Changi. We went all out to secure airlines, including unilaterally opening up our skies to invite the carriers to come to Changi. Today, the airlines are here, and Changi has grown into a world-class airport,” Mr Ong said.

The circumstances are different but we need the same hunger and enterprise as we had in the 1980s

“The challenge,” Mr Ong said, “is to restore passenger volume while keeping virus transmission under control.”

“A good place to start are the countries and territories where the virus transmission risk profiles are similar to or better than ours. Including transfer-transit traffic, they account for about 40% of our pre-COVID-19 passenger volumes,” said Mr Ong.

“But passenger volumes cannot be turned on and off capriciously. We need to take sensible measures concurrently, proportionate to the risk profile of each country, and make progressive steps as we become more confident,” Mr Ong added.

Replace 14-day isolation with a rigorous testing regime

The 14-day isolation is a major deterrent to travellers and we may have to replace it with a rigorous testing regime instead, said Mr Ong.

Singapore can consider unilaterally opening up to passengers from certain countries or regions which have kept the virus under control.

“We can proliferate Reciprocal Green Lanes for business travel, and also expand them for general travel,” Mr Ong said.

Truths to keep Singapore going

Mr Ong said:

“When it comes to the fate of Singapore, the following truth holds:

  • To survive, we have to keep our borders open.
  • To thrive, we have to connect to the world.
  • To prosper, we have to be a hub of the global economy.

Hence MOT’s mission is:

Building the physical connections that bring Singaporeans together, the world to Singapore, and Singapore to the world.

COVID-19 has decimated air travel and incapacitated one of our lungs, but the Singapore heart, our determination, dynamism and enterprise is still pumping strong.

Changi Airport will one day be full again, SIA planes will once again soar.

This is our collective mission in the coming months and years ahead, as we await the blooming of the bougainvillaea once again.”

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