Back to top

Speech by Minister Khaw Boon Wan at the 6th Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit (SAALS) 2018

05 Feb 2018 Speeches

Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of the Council of ICAO,

Mr Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO of IATA,

Friends from the International Civil Aviation Community,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Outlook of Aviation

1.     Welcome to the 6th Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit.

2.     The last time we met two years ago, the global economic recovery was still tentative.  This time round, the signs of recovery are firm. For civil aviation, it is unambiguous.  Aviation is growing and more people are flying. This year, 230 million more passengers will take to the skies. The future is bright. IATA has projected that the number of air passengers will double over the next 20 years (from 4.1 billion to 7.8 billion).

3.     The Asia-Pacific Region is growing at 4.6% annually, and it will be a key driver of the continued growth of air travel. Transport Ministers from the Asia-Pacific Region had just had a successful meeting in Beijing. Their confidence and pride was palpable. Almost all had ambitious plans to expand their airports or build new ones.

4.     I shared the same optimism, but had a word of caution against exuberance. Growth is not guaranteed. Aviation is an inherently volatile business that is vulnerable to external shocks. We all remember the shocks of 9/11, SARS, and the 2008 financial crisis. Fortunately, the aviation industry is extremely resilient. But to weather the headwinds, we must continue with our collective efforts to build strong foundations in aviation.

Foundations of Aviation

5.     First, we must continue to build a conducive business environment for the aviation industry to respond nimbly to market opportunities.  In particular, strong air hubs need to be supported by a liberal air services regime.  Only then can we achieve good outcomes for everyone: Airlines can remain competitive and flexible to expand their operations; passengers can enjoy a wide range of flight options; and airports will benefit from increased traffic, which would in turn benefit the wider economy and the people.

6.      There is clear evidence of this.  Passenger movements within ASEAN have grown by 9% annually since the ASEAN Open Skies Agreements were signed in 2009.  Passengers flying between ASEAN and China have tripled since the ASEAN-China Air Transport Agreement was signed in 20111.

7.     I am confident that similar success can be replicated with an ambitious ASEAN-EU Comprehensive Air Transport Agreement which the two economic blocs are in the midst of negotiating.  If negotiation is successful, it will be the first-of-its-kind bloc-to-bloc agreement that will allow airlines to fly to and also beyond both regions.  With this, both regions can look forward to tapping into the strong traffic growth and collectively grow the pie.  It will benefit the economies of the EU and ASEAN and will be good for the people.

8.     Second, we must continue to uphold high levels of aviation safety and security.  This was in fact the main purpose of the Asia-Pacific Civil Aviation Ministerial Conference in Beijing.  It was an occasion for the Ministers to commit to higher goals in safety and security.  2017 was the safest year on record for commercial air travel, with zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets.  However, we cannot take this for granted. The safety and security of air travel must continue to be our top priorities.  Where there might be differences in policies and views amongst States, we should continue to work together through ICAO to deliver the highest standards of aviation safety and security.

9.     Third, we have to increase capacity ahead of time to cater to the growing air traffic.  In Singapore, we opened Changi Airport Terminal 4 last October.  Terminal 4 is half the size of Terminal 3, but its capacity is two-thirds that of Terminal 3.  We have managed to achieve ‘more with less’ by leveraging technology to drive higher levels of productivity and output at the terminal.  The travel experience has also improved and become more seamless for travellers, with features like automated self-check-in, bag-drop, departure immigration, and boarding options.  Beyond Terminal 4, we are looking forward to the opening of Jewel Changi Airport in 2019, and we have started planning for the future Terminal 5.

10.    Besides hardware, our air traffic management (ATM) systems also need to be improved to cope with the increasingly crowded skies.  The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) has embarked on several initiatives and partnerships with other Air Navigation Services Providers (ANSPs).  Multi-Nodal Air Traffic Flow Management, or ATFM, and the System Wide Information Management, or SWIM, are examples of how we should use technology to increase ATM capacity.  Last November, the ICAO ATFM Global Symposium was successfully concluded here in Singapore.  The symposium gathered many international experts to share good ideas on how ATFM can address the challenges of an increasing volume of air traffic.

11.    Within ASEAN, we heeded ICAO’s call and adopted the ASEAN ATM Master Plan in Singapore last year.  The Master Plan comprises a suite of initiatives to enhance the region’s ATM capabilities, in accordance with the principles in the ICAO Asia-Pacific Seamless ATM Plan and ICAO Global Air Navigation Plan.  These initiatives will help ASEAN work towards a Seamless ASEAN Sky, with harmonised, inter-operable and safe ATM operations in a contiguous airspace within the region.  Airspace users will be able to transit smoothly across boundaries.  This will enhance ATM efficiency and capacity, and is testament to how States can work together to cope with growth in air traffic, and in an efficient way.

Dealing with disruptions facing the industry

12.    If we can collectively strengthen these foundations of aviation, we will also be better able to tackle future disruptions to the industry, turn them into opportunities, to bring about more benefits to the sector.

13.    One such disruption is progress in new aircraft technologies.  This will enable airlines to serve destinations that they were previously unable to.  Some long-haul routes with thin traffic are now commercially viable, allowing airlines to by-pass traditional hubs.  Low cost carriers are flying longer haul routes, giving passengers more choices but also posing competition for the legacy carriers.  But newer, more efficient aircraft have also allowed airlines to mount longer haul flights which were previously not feasible.  For example, Singapore-based carriers are now able to fly directly to the US using newer aircraft.  What this means is air hubs and airlines will need new strategies, new business models, and open new routes to adapt to these new aircraft.  As regulators, we should enable them to respond nimbly to market opportunities.

14.    Unmanned Aircraft System, or UAS, is another major disruptor to aviation.  There is huge potential for UAS to spur new applications across industries, improving processes and saving time and manpower.  However, there are also concerns about safety and security issues related to the use of UAS, in particular how UAS will affect manned flights and disrupt ATM.  These concerns must be addressed before the full potential of UAS can be realised.

15.    Singapore has a limited airspace and hence, our risk tolerance is low when it comes to UAS operations.  Nonetheless, we do not want to miss out on the benefits of UAS.  The Government is actively facilitating the use of UAS by both the private and the public sectors.  We will be designating One-North, an active R&D hub in Singapore, as Singapore’s first drone estate.  The drone estate will provide companies and research institutions with an urban environment for test-bedding innovative UAS technologies.  This will help the growth of high-tech companies with UAS capabilities, and spur meaningful commercial partnerships.  I am glad to note that Airbus, ST Aerospace and NTU’s Air Traffic Management Research Institute have come on board as pioneer users of the One-North drone estate.

Singapore-ICAO Programme for Young Aviation Professionals

16.    Ultimately, the heart of aviation is its people.  A pool of competent aviation professionals is the most important factor to ensure that States can continue to grow international aviation and develop timely responses to disruptions.  Last week, transport ministers from the Asia-Pacific Region agreed that priority should be given to human capital development so that there are sufficient qualified and competent aviation professionals to support the needs of the industry.

17.    To this end, ICAO’s “No Country Left Behind” (NCLB) and “Next Generation of Aviation Professionals” (NGAP) initiatives have been instrumental in developing and levelling up the expertise of aviation professionals.  Singapore has been supporting these two initiatives through the Singapore-ICAO Developing Countries Training Programme (DCTP).  This was launched in 2001 and is in its 6th run.  To-date, the Programme has provided assistance of about S$800,000 a year, in the form of scholarships and fellowships.

18.    This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Singapore Aviation Academy and the 15th anniversary of Singapore’s membership on the ICAO Council.  We have been privileged to serve on the ICAO Council and we are grateful for the support from fellow Member States.  On this occasion, I am happy to announce a new Singapore-ICAO Programme for Young Aviation Professionals.  The programme will offer 40 scholarships and 600 fellowships to young aviation professionals over the next 5 years (2018-2023).  In total, the programme will provide S$6 million in training assistance.  This is on top of the usual amount provided in each run of the DCTP.  In the early years of nation building, Singapore has benefitted from the assistance and training offered by many countries.  In turn, we are happy to do our part to help attract young aviation professionals to help build their aviation industry in their respective countries.  This will be good for the global aviation industry and the safety of all air travellers.


19.    On this note, I wish all of you a productive Summit, and an enjoyable stay in Singapore.

20.    Thank you.

1 Passenger movements grew by CAGR of 18.7% between 2011 (12 million) and 2017 (34 million).