Aviation sector ramping up recruitment efforts to ensure smooth experience at Changi Airport as travel resumes: Iswaran
Changi Airport's Terminal 2 will be progressively reopened this year as air travel recovers.
SINGAPORE: The aviation sector is ramping up recruitment efforts to ensure Changi Airport runs smoothly as travel resumes, said Transport Minister S Iswaran on Wednesday (Mar 30).
This comes after it lost a "significant proportion" of its workforce over the last two years due to the impact of COVID-19.
Boosting the manpower so that the sector can operate at the capacity required will be the "key challenge" as Singapore eases its border restrictions, said Mr Iswaran.
"So the level of attrition is a bit varied. It varies between up to about half I'm told in certain aspects, to maybe about a third," he said.
"So you know, it's a significant attrition we've had and that is because it's an inevitable consequence of the circumstances the aviation community was in because of the virus."
Industry players are now recruiting locally and from other countries like Malaysia, with the aim of gearing up ahead of demand.
He said: "I would say that we are at about two-thirds to about three-quarters of the capacity we were before and that should hold us in good stead in dealing with the kind of anticipated volume increases."
But he added that it takes time to train new workers and get them familiar with operations, especially since the way some things were done might have changed over the past two years.
"So all these take a little bit of time. But I'm confident that based on all that I've seen and heard, that our aviation community partners are gearing up well, for the anticipated increase," said Mr Iswaran.
Mr Iswaran was speaking to reporters during a media tour of Changi Airport, ahead of Singapore’s reopening of borders to all fully vaccinated travellers on Friday.
Singapore will remove all existing vaccinated travel lanes and unilateral opening arrangements from Apr 1, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore announced on Mar 24.
A new simplified travel framework will take its place. Under the vaccinated travel framework, countries and regions will be classified into two categories: The general travel or the restricted category.
For a start, all countries and regions will come under the general travel category. None are currently in the restricted category, although countries and regions may be re-classified in the event of a new variant with "potentially significant" public health risk, according to the Ministry of Health.
Mr Iswaran added that much of the work being done isn't just about “gearing up the capacity and opening up”, but also to ensure the airport can “pivot to a more conservative posture” should the need arise.
“In other words, if I can put it very simply, even as we gear up, it's important that we don't let our guard down.”
TERMINAL 2 TO BE “PROGRESSIVELY OPENED” IN 2022
Even though Terminal 1 and 3 have been the “mainstay of our operations” throughout the pandemic and will continue being the “central channel” to manage passenger flow, Changi Airport is also preparing for the next phase, Mr Iswaran said.
As such, Terminal 2 will be “progressively opened” in the course of this year.
“I think that will help add to the capacity. And Terminal 4 is, I think if we need to activate it, Changi is able to do so at relatively short notice,” he added.
“I think as we ramp up volumes … this is a decision that must be a function of the broader circumstances, because opening up a terminal incurs significant overheads and in terms of manpower. So it's not something where you can just open one gate or two gates at a time.”
Mr Iswaran noted that what needs to be done is “make sure that we are now at that next quantum leap” in the flow of passengers before deciding to move to the next step.
“But in terms of preparedness and readiness, the plans are there and I think they can be activated,” he said.
“GRADUALLY RELAXED PROTOCOLS” AT CHANGI
At the same time, Changi Airport has “gradually relaxed protocols” to bring back the “Changi experience” to passengers and visitors, said Changi Airport Group in a news release.
For instance, the airport is simplifying its arrival procedures to allow passengers to roam freely at the terminals.
Previously, the arrival hall was restricted to arriving passengers and professional meet-and-greet service personnel to minimise interaction between arriving passengers and local residents.
There are now no restrictions on entry to Changi’s arrival halls for those wishing to meet and greet passengers, and barricades at Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 have been removed.
In a return to pre-pandemic life, fully vaccinated passengers can now meet their family and friends immediately after collecting their luggage. There is no need for them to proceed for on-arrival testing from Apr 1.
Passengers can also now take public buses or the MRT from the airport — in addition to taxis, private hire cars and personal transport.
Shopping and dining will also see a return to normalcy. Without a need for on-arrival tests anymore, all arriving passengers who are fully vaccinated can shop and dine at any of the shops in the terminals and Changi Jewel before leaving the airport from Apr 1.
Currently, 65 per cent of the shops at the transit areas of Terminal 1 and 3 are open for travellers, with more tenants to reopen their shops gradually.
For example, the Lotte Duty Free stores at the Terminal 1 and 3 arrival halls are set to reopen by May this year.
Despite relaxed protocols, Changi Airport stands “ready to implement” additional safety measures when necessary, said its press release.
For instance, gates C1 to C3 in Terminal 1 can be reactivated as a Transit Holding Area within two hours if there are countries or regions placed under the Health Ministry’s restricted category.
The on-arrival testing facilities at Terminal 1 and 3 are also being maintained as standby facilities, should on-arrival testing need to be resumed.
As for travellers still hesitant about booking a flight due to the perceived administrative hassles of flying in a pandemic, Mr Iswaran pointed out that air travel has had to adapt to various threats and challenges even before the pandemic.
“It’s always about finding the balance between safety and the traveller experience. I think you have to always find that balance — and it's a dynamic balance because you have to respond to the evolving situation,” he said.
“The pandemic has clearly introduced a new set of challenges. So I would urge all travellers to take it in their stride.”
For instance, with the SG Arrival Card, Mr Iswaran highlighted that it can be “completed in a matter of minutes” if one is already vaccinated.
“And I think it is an investment of a few minutes of your time for a far greater benefit to society,” he said.