September 24, 2012
Credit: Singapore Airlines
Leithen Francis Singapore, Jakarta and Bangkok
Phenomenal growth in passenger traffic across Asia, particularly from low-cost carriers, has fueled demand for bigger airports. The authorities, however, have failed to address this need, leading to flight delays and slot constraints.
Nearly every major capital city airport in Southeast Asia has issues with congestion. The most notable examples are: Singapore's Changi, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi, Manila's Ninoy Aquino Internatonal and Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta International.
“When you start hearing stories about congestion at Changi, which is run by some of the most far-sighted people, then that rings alarm bells,” says Andrew Herdman, director general of the Asia Pacific Airlines' Association, which represents 15 full-service network carriers.
Much of the airport congestion is a result of low-cost carriers (LCC), which use narrowbodies, says Herdman. These smaller aircraft result in more departures. Some airport officials say the liberalization of air services, coupled with the success of low-cost carriers, has led full-service airlines to operate smaller aircraft in an effort to match the frequency of LCC flights. This too has added to the number of departures. Singapore Airlines, for example, previously only operated Boeing 777 widebodies to Kuala Lumpur and Penang in Malaysia.
But in recent years it has increased its frequency on these routes using Airbus narrowbodies operated by its subsidiary SilkAir.
Singapore's government is open about the fact that flight delays and slot constraints are now a problem at Changi Airport. But the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has been quick to point out that efforts are underway to fix the problem.
CAAS's director general, Yap Ong Heng, says the authority last year introduced simultaneous takeoffs and landings at Changi.