Previously, the airport had one of its two runways dedicated to takeoffs and the other for landings. But allowing mixed-mode operations increases throughput.
Yap also says the airport has implemented a program to better coordinate activities there, such as ground handling. A real-time information exchange has been established so, for example, if a flight arrives earlier or later than scheduled, the ground handlers and others at the airport can respond more efficiently and avoid creating further delays.
Another ongoing initiative is to reduce the amount of time the runways are closed for maintenance, says Yap. This is achieved by boosting resources—equipment and people—so the jobs can be finished more efficiently and quickly.
CAAS has also introduced “one-minute” departures and changed some flight routes to allow for a reduction in aircraft separation. And its air traffic controllers are being retrained to ensure they make better decisions. For example, if thunderstorms are predicted, controllers manage the flow of air traffic earlier rather than later, helping to streamline operations.
These measures all help in the short-term, but are hardly a long-term solution. Changi's passenger traffic grew 14% last year and 9% in the first six months of this year.
Singapore's minister of state for transport and finance, Josephine Teo, says the government will decide before year-end whether to turn Changi's third runway over to commercial use. The third runway is currently reserved for the military. However, before commercial airlines can use it, the runway will need to be extended, she says. It also lacks taxiways to the passenger terminals, and a decision has to be made about what to do with the public road that runs between the second runway and the military runway. Yap says he anticipates the government will address these issues by year-end. Once the government approves the third runway, however, it will still take years before it is ready for commercial operations.
Many airports in Southeast Asia have grand plans for expansion, but unlike Singapore's situation, there are questions about whether these plans will be executed on time.
Thailand's Suvarnabhumi Airport began operations in September 2006 and a second-phase expansion was supposed to start a few months later. The authorities back then knew the initial capacity of 45 million passengers would be insufficient. However, political unrest in Thailand, following the military coup in September 2006 that toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power, curtailed those plans.
The airport last year handled 48 million passengers and that number is forecast to grow to 52 million this year. Operating beyond capacity has led to lengthy queues at passenger immigration checkpoints, airlines often have to park aircraft at remote bays, new landing slots are hard to get, and aircraft are often delayed on the tarmac.
Thailand's current government, which was elected last August and is headed by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, sees expansion of Suvarnabhumi as a priority.