The Shape of Things to Come

Are the new low cost terminals in Asia-Pacific pushing ground support operations into the 21st century?

Low cost terminals are nothing new. Depending on how they are defined, it can be argued they are as old as aviation itself. After all, the first facilities were hardly the retail- and amenity-laden metropolises so typical of the modern hub.

Indeed, the return to a more basic infrastructure — best illustrated by the custom-made terminals in Asia-Pacific — is in part generated by the huge airport cities seen in all the major regions. As these airports grow, so the logistics of an efficient operation become ever more complicated. Baggage needs a sorting area, ground vehicles need to be allocated and, perhaps most crucially, aircraft need a place to park and slots for landing and take-off.

The low cost carriers (LCCs) were quick to spot the shortcomings. Not only were these mega-facilities too expensive, they were highly impractical for airlines modeled on high aircraft utilization and cheap fares. Try doing a 20-minute turnaround at London Heathrow or Chicago O’Hare. It often takes that long just to taxi in from the runway.

So began the rise of secondary airports. LCCs found these much more to their liking and it put many a forgotten facility back on the map. But it was discovered these too have their drawbacks. Some are geographically inconvenient, others lack a modern infrastructure. None were expressly designed for 21st century no-frills flying.

Airline dreams
The ideal airport solution for LCCs is an efficient, cost-effective facility that is both modern and conveniently located. And it is this “dream scenario” that has finally arrived in Asia-Pacific.

Of course, there are other airports around the world that now fit the bill but in facilities like those in Singapore and Malaysia, built specifically to satisfy the needs of a growing band of LCCs, there is the hint of future trends.

As Peter Harbison, executive chairman of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Aviation puts it: “For the first time, airlines have begun to shape the way airports operate.”

That shape doesn’t include passengers frolicking in airport lounges or shops. Rather it is the unforgiving straight line of passengers boarding as fast as possible, enabling crews to keep up with tight schedules and sell the extra services that form an essential part of the LCC business plan.

Singapore’s budget terminal was finalized after studying several overseas terminals of a similar nature and is focused purely on meeting the requirements of low cost carriers.

”The budget terminal does not have aerobridges, so travelers walk a short distance on the tarmac to and from the aircraft,” a Changi spokesperson says. “It is made up of two adjacent single-story buildings connected via linkways. This design facilitates seamless passenger flow in the single-story terminal, as arrival and departure procedures are done in separate buildings.”

There is little in the way of distracting or costly amenities but passenger needs aren’t entirely neglected. There is free Internet access and local phone calls as well as automated teller machines, money exchanges, televisions and food and beverage outlets.

The compact terminal, situated a short distance from Changi’s main buildings, has its various operational facilities situated as close to each other as practically possible, with the walking distance from the check-in counters to the nearest boarding gate being less than 100 meters.

Such efficiency also supports the speedy deployment of ground handling staff, thus allowing them to operate in a more cost-effective manner. The back-end of ground support is no less successful, with aircraft stands easily accessed by equipment perfectly suited to the narrow-body aircraft and advanced systems easily coping with the point-to-point services.

Perfect layout
Main airline user, Tiger Airways, agrees the terminal is doing the job for which it was designed. An airline spokesperson confirms it has saved S$1 million a year on aerobridge costs alone.

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