Amid the world’s battle with Covid-19, Singapore’s Changi Airport turns 40 this month. Changi Journeys looks back at its humble beginnings, how the decision was made to move from its former location at Paya Lebar to Changi, and why it operates the way it does today, with excerpts from the book ‘From Ground Up’ by Colin Cheong.
The move from Paya Lebar Airport
Increasing passenger traffic in the 70’s set into motion the planning for expanded airport infrastructure. In 1980, over seven million passenger movements were handled at the tiny Paya Lebar Airport. Options back then were either to upgrade and expand Paya Lebar Airport or build a new one at Changi. Due to the former’s location, continuing to have an airport there would lead to increased noise pollution and constrain developments in the city area due to height restrictions imposed.
On the other hand, siting the new airport at Changi would give it room for future expansion. Its location at the eastern tip of the island state also means that it can also function round the clock, as there were relatively few housing estates in the area then. While construction works would be massive and costly, then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew decided in 1975 that Changi would be the right way to go.
Fast forward to midnight of 30 June 1981, Paya Lebar Airport ceased operations. The airport community swung into action for the big move to Changi, which was to take place almost overnight. Vehicles and ground support equipment had to be loaded onto trailers. The long convoy of vehicles transporting everything for the move was escorted by the police. Roads were closed and different routes were taken from Paya Lebar to Changi. One can only imagine the scale of the move.
By 7am on 1 July 1981, the new Singapore Changi Airport was open to the world.
The vision for Changi
In the first two weeks of Changi’s open house, it received 250,000 visitors. Every 10th person in Singapore stepped foot in the newly opened Terminal 1 (T1). McDonald’s and Swensen’s were the only two eateries back then, and they were packed to the brim with excited crowds.
Design-wise, while the terminal’s exterior was functional, its interior was the one which wowed all visitors. From the blooming bougainvillea that lined Airport Boulevard, to the waterfall which ran through from the departure hall to the basement and the glossy marble finishing, visitors were impressed with Singapore’s newest airport.