Interview: Changi Airport’s VP of Terminal 5 Planning on offering excellent airport experience

Phu Nguyen Event, Event News Leave a Comment

“A delightful journey starts right at the terminal, so instead of being a pain, airports can be a great start to a passenger’s journey, or even as a destination in itself.”

– Poh Li San, Vice President of Terminal 5 Planning, Changi Airport Group –

Following the successful Aviation Festival Asia 2018, we’re launching an eBook featuring some of the industry’s most forward-thinking digital innovators to talk about their digital innovation journey and where they think we are headed. Download our ebook here for full interviews. Below is an excerpt of our chat with Li San. 


Tell us more about your role in the construction of T4.

Li San: As the VP of T4 Programme Management Office, I set the pace for the entire project. In simple terms, I was both the whip and the glue, making sure the project was running on schedule over a short 5-year period, making sure the budget stayed within the approved figure, and of course ensuring high quality standards on various fronts; working with many internal teams and external partners and making sure everyone was on the same page. As the glue, my role was a lot about stakeholder engagement, understanding the needs and challenges of each stakeholder, and coordinating teams to solve problems and come up with solutions together. It was also about ensuring proper and timely communication with stakeholders, so everyone was kept updated on T4’s progress which helped with their own planning. Towards the end of T4’s construction, my role shifted to public and media engagement. It is most important that the public responds well to the new terminal. T4 was a relatively small-scale project compared to T5, so I was able to take on a central role in the entire T4 journey.

From T4 to T5, what are the key considerations for each of these airport terminals? Do the challenges and considerations differ?

Li San: T5 is entirely different from T4, and from all our current terminals. First, it is a mega terminal. Secondly, its typology is very different. It is going to be the size of T1, T2 and T3 combined. Such a scale comes with a lot of complexity. The project timeline is a lot longer, with 2030 as our targeted year of completion. And looking further down into the future, there is a lot of opportunities to use new technologies.

The key challenges of T4 were mostly related to its small size and how we had to make it look spacious despite the lack of space. For T5, it is the exact opposite. With the huge space we have, we have to strategise ways to make it more human-scale.

Of course, what we’ve learnt from T4 in terms of the basic principles of an airport terminal’s planning, design development, construction, operationalisation, all these are very precious knowledge which we can still apply to the T5 project.

Let’s talk a bit more about T4. It’s all about automation, going digital, self-service. When T4 was first conceptualised, were these already part of the vision?

Li San: Yes it was. If we compare ourselves to North America and Europe, we are still quite far behind in pushing out these automated or selfservice technologies. In the future with our growing traffic, the efficiency of our terminals will be greatly affected if we don’t utilise more of such technologies to support our operations.

T4 gave us a very good opportunity to roll out many of these initiatives. Also, with the maturing of certain technologies like in the field of biometrics, what used to be impossible say 5 years ago is now possible. So T4 was also a case of good timing. First, there was a very clear need for us to rely more on technology due to manpower constraints and mounting cost pressure from airlines constantly looking for cost-effectiveness; second, there was this whole pipeline of technology available for us to leverage.

We often hear that the airport experience is often a pain point in the whole travel experience for passengers. Do you agree? Is technology the solution to this?

Li San: Generally, yes, although there can be exceptions. The airport is basically a funnel that passengers must go through before they enter the aircraft. And unfortunately, this funnel consists of several touch-points that are increasingly challenging to manage due to increasing traffic, regulation, security checks, space constraints etc. If the processes of this funnel are not done efficiently, it will have a massive domino effect on the airlines, affecting…

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