CHARTING THE WAY FORWARD FOR A RESILIENT, INCLUSIVE AND SUSTAINABLE AVIATION SECTOR
Honourable fellow ASEAN Ministers,
Mr Salvatore Sciacchitano, President of the Council of ICAO,
Mr Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA,
Mr Luis Felipe de Oliveira, Director General of ACI World,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Welcome to the inaugural Changi Aviation Summit. At the outset, allow me to extend a warm Singapore welcome to our guests, who have come here from overseas.
2. The Changi Aviation Summit has been conceived as the successor event to the Singapore Airshow Aviation Leadership Summit (SAALS). The last run of that summit was in 2018, before the pandemic struck.
3. Back then, no one could have envisaged or imagined the severe impact that COVID-19 has wrought upon aviation. After two gruelling years, I am glad that the sector is taking off with many countries, including Singapore, reopening borders and reconnecting with the world.
4. It is therefore timely, perhaps more so than ever before, that we, as a global aviation community, also reconnect in person and gear up for the post-pandemic recovery. It is also apt that we are doing so under the auspices of a new platform – the Changi Aviation Summit. As global aviation emerges from an unprecedented crisis, we hope that this inaugural Changi Aviation Summit will serve as a symbol of recovery and rejuvenation for international aviation, and a harbinger of opportunities and growth.
5. Emerging from the pandemic and preparing for the future, international aviation is poised at a watershed. In that context, I wish to speak on three priorities – capacity, capabilities and climate – which are critical to not only secure a confident recovery from the pandemic, but also to build a strong runway for future growth.
6. First, capacity. Pre-COVID, many airports around the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific, were grappling with congestion within the terminals, as well as aircraft movements on the ground and in the skies. However, the pandemic decimated international air travel, with demand in 2020 falling by three-quarters compared to 2019 – the largest year-on-year decline since records began in 1950. The impact on Singapore’s Changi Airport was far greater. At the depth of the pandemic in April and May 2020, our passenger traffic declined to barely 0.5% of pre-COVID volumes.
7. More recently, in tandem with the reopening of our borders, we have seen encouraging signs of recovery. As of end-March, international air passenger traffic has recovered to nearly half of pre-COVID levels. Not surprisingly, the pattern of recovery has been uneven. Regions such as Europe and North America which had reopened their borders earlier were at about 65% of pre-COVID volumes as of April, whereas the Asia-Pacific with relatively more conservative border measures stood at less than 20%.
8. However, with further reopening and easing of border measures, recovery is expected to strengthen. With countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea reopening borders to all fully vaccinated travellers from April, we expect recovery in the Asia-Pacific to gather momentum over the next several months.
9. We are already seeing evidence of this in Singapore. Passenger traffic has already more than doubled to above 40% of pre-COVID levels in May, compared to just under 20% in mid-March. I also note the comment earlier by Mr Willie Walsh, Director-General of IATA, that overall air passenger numbers are expected to recover to pre-COVID levels by 2023, one year earlier than previously anticipated. This is the measure of the pace of recovery that is taking place and also a measure of the challenge that we have to adapt to.
10. While there are good reasons to be optimistic about the future growth of air travel demand, it is incumbent that we do not forget pre-COVID capacity challenges. To reduce ground congestion and the consequential delays in the air, we must strive to build up capacity in anticipation of demand. Many airports had put in place expansion plans before the pandemic. These plans would now have to be revisited to safely, seamlessly, and sustainably support a return to pre-pandemic rates of growth in air travel.
11. In this context, I would like to give an update on our plans for Changi Airport’s Terminal 5, or T5. Two years ago, amidst pandemic-fuelled uncertainties, we had announced a pause of the T5 project. The aim was to first navigate the COVID-19 challenge, re-assess the trajectory of aviation growth, learn from the pandemic experience, and review T5’s design to meet the needs of post-pandemic travel.
12. Given the current and projected recovery in air travel demand, we have a renewed impetus to secure our infrastructural capacity for growth. I am therefore happy to announce that we are restarting work on the T5 project. We have taken the opportunity of the two-year hiatus to comprehensively review the T5 design to make it more modular and flexible, and enhance its resilience and sustainability. We will re-mobilise the design and engineering consultants progressively, to update and further refine the T5 design. Depending on the pace of recovery, we expect to commence the construction of T5 in about two to three years, for T5 to be ready to meet the anticipated demand around the mid-2030s.
13. Beyond physical infrastructure, we are also investing in new concepts for Air Traffic Management, as well as the next generation of Air Navigation Services systems. This is to ensure that we have the operational capacity to manage the expected growth in air traffic. IATA forecasts that passenger air traffic in the Asia-Pacific will grow at 4.5% annually over the next 20 years, effectively doubling volume over the next two decades. To accommodate this growth in air traffic safely and efficiently, Singapore is also working closely with our regional partners towards the vision of a seamless sky.
14. Aside from capacity expansion, we must also invest in new capabilities to support aviation recovery and growth.
15. Firstly, it is essential that we continue to grow our aviation workforce, and equip them with the knowledge and skillsets to innovate, seize new opportunities and adapt to disruptions. In this regard, ICAO’s “No Country Left Behind” and “Next Generation of Aviation Professionals” initiatives have been key to levelling up the expertise of aviation professionals globally. We should build on these initiatives, and strengthen our focus on fundamentals such as aviation safety, as well as urgent long-term priorities like sustainability.
16. In support of this important mission, I am pleased to share that we will extend the Singapore-ICAO Developing Countries Training Programme (DCTP) for a further three years. Since the establishment of the programme in 2001, we have supported the training of around 1,500 government officials from 130 countries. In this latest extension, we will provide US$1.6 million of training assistance over three years, in the form of fellowships and scholarships. We will always remember and are grateful for the assistance and training offered by other states from which Singapore benefitted greatly in our early years of nation building. We are therefore happy and honoured to be able to do our part in continuing that fine tradition, working with ICAO to support the training of aviation professionals in other countries, and make global aviation more inclusive.
17. Our efforts to augment our aviation talent pool, must be complemented by enhancements to our technological capabilities.
18. In particular, we can harness technology to further streamline and harmonise our travel protocols. One key enabler in this regard will be the promulgation of digital health credentials and their mutual recognition. This will enable travellers to present digitally verifiable certificates for their health status to be easily and reliably authenticated.
19. On this note, I am pleased to share that Singapore and the African Union have just established a framework for the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccination certificates. This will add to the portfolio of digital vaccination certificates that Singapore can recognise. It is only through global cooperation of the aviation community that we can unlock such mechanisms for the mutual recognition of digital health credentials, to enhance the travel experience and accelerate the recovery of air travel.
20. Finally, climate change is a defining challenge of our times, with the potential to cause grave and irreversible harm to lives and livelihoods. Climate action is not an optional extra; it is an existential imperative.
21. Pre-COVID, aviation accounted for more than 900 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions globally or 2% of global emissions. If we fail to act, the sector’s emissions could more than double by 2050 from 2019 levels. This is not tenable – for the aviation sector nor its diverse stakeholders. It is therefore in the enlightened self-interest of the global aviation community to take decisive action now to decarbonise air travel.
22. Under the leadership of ICAO, the aviation sector has made some early progress, having set out its medium-term aspirational goals, and the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). More than 100 states, including Singapore, are participating voluntarily in CORSIA. ICAO is also working on a long-term aspirational goal for the sector.
23. In Singapore, we are formulating a Sustainable Air Hub Blueprint to set out our ambition, ensure alignment across the sector, and chart the specific actions we will take to decarbonise air travel as an international air hub. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has assembled an International Advisory Panel (IAP) to advise on the Blueprint’s development and to propose initiatives – for the airport, for the airline and for air traffic segments. We look forward to the IAP’s presentation of its recommendations this July.
24. To conclude, we believe that the global aviation is at a watershed. Two years ago, we were confronted with the crisis of a generation which decimated air travel. Today, we see the green shoots of recovery and encouraging signs of growth. They not only give us reason for optimism, but also the confidence to forge ahead with a focus on capacity, capabilities and climate. It is now up to us, to come together as one global aviation community to sustain the recovery, and enhance our infrastructural, human and environmental capacity for air travel to take off and soar once again.
25. As an international air hub, Singapore is resolutely committed to this endeavour. We will do our utmost, working with international partners and aviation organisations like ICAO, IATA and ACI, to secure the future of global aviation. This inaugural Changi Aviation Summit is a symbol of our commitment, as a member of the global aviation community, to work with each and all of you to chart the way forward for a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable aviation sector.
26. On this note, I wish all of you a productive Changi Aviation Summit, and an enjoyable stay in Singapore.
27. Thank you.