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Singapore's Changi, in fight for hub status, opens fourth terminal

The airport voted the world's best can now handle 24% more travelers

The departure hall at Changi Airport's new Terminal 4   © Reuters

SINGAPORE -- The fourth terminal at Singapore's Changi International Airport opened its doors to the public on Tuesday morning.

The airport can now handle 82 million passengers, 24% more than previously. The new terminal also promises travelers an easier time getting to their gates, with numerous automated stations having been installed.

The added capacity and convenience promise to further burnish the city-state's status as Asia's air transit hub. 

On Halloween at 5:27 a.m., a Cathay Pacific Airways flight from Hong Kong landed, then christened Terminal 4 by safely pulling up to it. Other than Hong Kong's Cathay, Terminal 4 serves Cebu Pacific Air of the Philippines, Korean Air Lines, China's Spring Airlines, Vietnam Airlines as well as four regional airlines from the AirAsia Group out of Malaysia. 

Terminal 4 -- the smallest of Changi Airport's terminals -- sits where an old terminal used to cater to budget airlines. The new building was developed at a cost of 985 million Singapore dollars ($724 million). Its automated terminals not only help passengers speed through the boarding process, they promise to cut personnel needs by 20%. 

Terminal 4 offers automated procedures to make life easier for travelers. (Photo by Mayuko Tani)

There are seven rows of check-in counters, four of which are currently automated. If they are well-received, there is a chance that all rows will be automated. Also, facial recognition systems are installed at baggage check-in counters, departure immigration aisles and boarding gates to boost security.

Before the terminal's opening, more than 100 trials were conducted involving over 1,500 volunteers and 2,500 airport employees, according to a news release issued in September.

The new facility is part of a regionwide rush to build up air travel infrastructure. Beijing, Jakarta, Hong Kong and other cities are moving to expand existing airports or open new ones -- either to cope with brisk traffic or attract more.

To continue enhancing its competitiveness as a hub, Singapore is developing a fifth terminal at Changi, scheduled to open around 2025. This will add capacity for another 50 million travelers a year, bringing the total to about 135 million.

The airport sees Terminal 4 as a testing ground for new technology to boost efficiency and security -- technology it intends to employ in the upcoming addition.

Changi was already the world's sixth-busiest airport in 2016 by international passenger traffic, with a record of 58.2 million, according to data compiled by Airports Council International. The global top three were Dubai, with 83.1 million passengers; London's Heathrow, with 71 million; and Hong Kong, with 70.1 million.

This year, Changi was voted the world's best airport for the fifth time in a row, in a survey of 13.82 million passengers by aviation review website Skytrax. Since the poll began in 2000, the airport has earned top honors eight times.

The Skytrax survey evaluates customer satisfaction with check-in procedures, arrivals, shopping, security and immigration, among other factors. In Asia, Tokyo's Haneda came in second, while South Korea's Incheon placed third. Hong Kong and Japan's Chubu Centrair International Airport, which serves the greater Nagoya area, also made the top 10.

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