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Changi T4: Pushing the boundaries of DIY culture and jobs automation

We breakdown what you can expect from Changi’s latest addition.

PHOTO: CHANGI AIRPORT NEWSROOM

Singapore’s Changi Airport has launched the opening of its fourth terminal – aptly named Terminal 4 (T4) – on Tuesday (Oct 31).

It welcomed its first ever flight, the Cathay Pacific Airways CX659 from Hong Kong, which landed at 5.25am local time.

A significant milestone for the Singapore aviation story, the airport gave out celebratory gifts – food and drinks – to travelers who were lucky enough to be on the first few incoming and outgoing flights.

While this is not Changi’s first terminal opening, T4 is unique.

It is comparatively smaller, with the terminal’s humble square footage being the tiniest of the four terminals; it is also less than half the size of its direct predecessor – the swanky Terminal 3 (T3).

PHOTO: INSIDE T4/MOTHERSHIP

But there is a reason for its small package.

As part of the government’s “Smart Nation” initiative, certain trends such as the embracing of new technologies, a divergence from the ‘cash is king’ adage, and jobs automation have seeped into Singapore.

And T4 perfectly exemplifies this attitude.

For the first time at the world-renowned airport, travelers can complete flight check-ins without any human interaction.

This is due to the extensive self-service systems and other technologies on site.

And to ensure that it is the same person moving from one check-in process to the other, facial recognition systems have been put in place to capture headshots of all passengers.

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And though manual counters remain part of T4’s operations, the large number of self-service stations send a clear message that the airport would much rather travelers hop aboard the DIY train.

Citing this change as a consequence of a pricey and increasingly labour-scarce market, the general shift from humans to robots may prove to be a risky one for Changi.

After all, the airport prides itself on providing a ‘personal touch’ for its travelers.

With new additions such as cleaning robots and automated vehicles that can help travelers transport heavy gear, T4 could be seen as an experiment for the airport to gage the pros and cons of running a terminal with minimal employees.

With the up and coming Terminal 5 (T5) in the works, one could also argue that the level of success of a largely automated T4 would determine T5’s flow of operation.

And this is significant – as unlike T4, T5 is set to be humongous (some say ten times larger than Vivo City); it would also be one of the largest airport terminals in the world, servicing a whopping 50 million passengers per annum.

Growing demand

There is no doubt that at present, more people have travelled around the world than at any other time period.

And this demand for air travel is growing rapidly.

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According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), they forecast that by 2035, there would be 7.2 billion air travellers globally. This number nearly doubles the latest statistic of 3.8 billion in 2016.

Furthermore, IATA predicts that most of the growth would take place in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, with China eventually displacing the United States (US) as the world’s largest aviation market by around 2024.

Hence, experts and industry leaders alike have pondered the preparedness of airports around the world. Would said airports be able to handle the large influx of passengers or would their systems crumble in the face of the monstrous crowds?

It is therefore, perhaps a timely move on Changi’s part to establish more terminals within its operating grounds.

After all, with T4 and some expansion works in Terminal 1 (T1), the Changi cluster will be able to cater to more than 85 million passengers annually.

However, the efficiency and functionality of its DIY-inspired terminal is still in its early days. Would these systems stand the test of time?

Well – only time will tell.

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