Singapore Changi To Rely Heavily On Digital COVID Checks

In years gone by, Singapore Changi has been a key hub for east-west long-haul connections. Consistently rated among the world’s best airports, its traffic dropped by over 80% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now looking to recover alongside the industry as a whole, it plans to use digital technology to police COVID-19 documents.

Singapore Changi Airport Getty
The airport hopes that technology will simplify coronavirus checks. Photo: Getty Images

Getting Singapore moving again

Airport data shows that Singapore Changi experienced year-on-year growth through the 2010s. It handled just over 42 million passenger movements in 2010, and this figure had exceeded 68 million by 2019. Growth slowed a little towards the end, but, nonetheless, it was still on a consistently upward trajectory. Then COVID-19 stopped aviation in its tracks.

The onset of the pandemic quickly stifled demand, with travel restrictions preventing all but essential journeys. Airlines and airports bore the brunt of this impact worldwide, with Changi’s passenger figures falling by 82.8% to just 11.8 million last year.

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Singapore Airlines, Airbus A350 Freighter
Cargo traffic also fell in Singapore last year, albeit by just 23%. Photo: Getty Images

However, it is well placed to handle more passengers going forward. Speaking exclusively to Simple Flying at our recent Future Flying Forum online event, Changi’s Managing Director of Airport Operations, Jayson Goh, explained that it boils down to:

… the ability of the country to keep control of the COVID-19 infection, primarily through a good set of safe measurements, as well as a high vaccination rate for the local community. We’ve already achieved 85% vaccination for the entire population, so that gives us the confidence to open safely for travel to recover.”

Digitalized document checks

A key bugbear for passengers traveling during the crisis has been having to handle additional restrictions. These often change, and sometimes at short notice, such as Germany’s recent restrictions for UK arrivals. Having the correct documentation to prove vaccination and test status is also now essential, causing further administrative headaches.

Singapore Jewel
Goh wants to minimize physical document checks at Changi. Photo: Matteo Morando via Wikimedia Commons

In light of the current situation, airports are facing a curious paradox. They need to keep distance between people as much as possible, but also check -19 documents, which sometimes needs to be done in person. With this in mind, Goh told Simple Flying:

Look at digitization of vaccination certificates [and] pre-departure tests. If this can all be uploaded onto the digital sites of the agencies, such that all the pre-checks can be done, then when the travelers actually get to the airport, all these processes can be simplified. And I think, with that, you can prevent people from having to queue to do checks physically when they come into the airport.”

The airport looks set to see more A380 traffic in 2022. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

COVID has catalyzed digital development

There is no denying that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has posed a huge challenge for the aviation industry as a whole. However, it has also prompted accelerated research and development of certain digital technologies. Away from document checks, Goh explains:

COVID not only helped us accelerate the deployment of [digital] technology, but there were also new ones that came online. (…) Another thing that we have started is this new thing called the Changi Queue. This is a digital queue where people book a time for pre-bought screening through security, so that you get to the security gate at the time when you booked. That minimizes the bunching of travelers.”

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Changi’s recovery progresses next year. With Singapore Airlines planning a large-scale return to service for its Airbus A380 fleet next summer, passenger numbers may soar. Those that do use the airport will likely enjoy a highly digital experience, thanks to the innovation that the pandemic has fostered.

What do you make of Changi Airport’s plans? Have you flown through Singapore during the coronavirus pandemic? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.