Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore Changi Airport, located at the eastern edge of Singapore, was officially opened on 29 December 1981. It was built mainly on reclaimed land near where originally the World War II Changi airbase had stood.

From the day it opened, the airport has won many accolades including several firsts. These include being the world's largest airport at the time of its opening and having the world's largest column-free hanger at 20,000 sq m.


The Changi airbase was built by World War II prisoners of war from 1943 to 1944. The north-south and east-west strips located in the northeast point of Singapore were merely unpaved, thinly grassed runways when the RAF took over the airbase in 1946. Japanese prisoners then added perforated steel plates on the east-west strip and strengthened the north-south runway, the latter serving as the main runway for military aircraft until 1949.

In the early 1970s, Paya Lebar Airport, Singapore's existing civil airport proved to have insufficient room for future expansion. A new location was sought for an airport where it would not interfere with high-rise developments. Changi airbase was selected as the site for the new airport.

Plans for the new airport included two runways, three passenger terminals with a possibility of constructing a fourth terminal building. Vital support facilities to be built included aircraft engineering support, in-flight catering services, fire stations and utilities. In June 1975, preparation work on the Changi airbase site for an international airport began. At least 870 ha (8.7 sq km) of land was reclaimed, an amount sufficient to cover Sentosa. Canals were constructed to divert water from three existing streams; Sungei Tanah Merah Besar, Sungei Ayer Gemuroh and Sungei Mata Ikan. Construction was subdivided into two phases with Phase I (Changi I) targeted for completion by 1981 and Phase II (Changi II) to be completed by the mid-1980s. The cost for Phase I alone was S$1,300 million. The airport was finished in record time despite shortage of materials and workers. The speed and organisation of the airport's erection was attributed to the application of sound management principles by the Changi Airport Development Division of the Public Works Department.

Singapore Changi Airport became operational on 1 July 1981 and was officially opened five months later on 29 December. The first flight, SQ 101, which carried 140 passengers from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, touched-down at 7:00 am on 1 July 1981. The first flight departing from the airport at 8:00 am on the same day was SQ 192, bound for Penang, Malaysia.


Currently, Changi Airport has two parallel runways, each 60-metre wide with a 1.64 km gap separating them. When the airport first opened, only Terminal 1 was operational. On 22 November 1990, Terminal 2 was made operational and opened officially on 1 June the following year. Terminal 2 is much larger than Terminal 1 but both provide similar services that include passenger transactions and transit, and restaurants and shopping areas.  Following that, Terminal 3 commenced operations on 9 January 2008. Together, the three terminals can handle a total of 66 million passenger movements annually. Terminal 4 is currently being constructed and is targeted for completion in 2017.  The Budget Terminal, which had opened on 26 March 2006 to serve budget airlines, was closed on 25 September 2012 to make way for the construction of Terminal 4.

The 16-sided, 78-metre Control Tower, sitting on a polygonal shaft serves not only as a necessary air-traffic control unit but has become a key icon representing the airport. Travelling along the highway towards the airport, clever landscaping and colourful plants hide the ancillary buildings and add greenery to the expansive structures. The greenery continues to penetrate the airport with planter boxes and landscaped pools within the terminals.

Initially there was only the Skytrain providing convenient travel between the terminals. When the Changi Airport Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Station was opened on 8 February 2002, passengers gained ease of travel from the airport right into the heart of town in air-conditioned comfort.

Changi Airport has won many awards and accolades, most often the "Best Airport in the World", a title given by various unrelated organisations such as Airport World, Business Traveller and OAG Worldwide. Most recently in March 2014, Changi Airport was named the World’s Best Airport for the fifth time and for the second consecutive year at the 2014 Skytrax World Airport Awards.

Changi Airport was corporatised on 1 July 2009 and is currently managed by the Changi Airport Group, which was previously part of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS). The airport serves more than 100 international airlines flying to some 250 cities in 60 countries and territories worldwide.

Variant Names

Changi Airbase, Changi Airport.


Bonny Muliani Tan

All poised for the big take-off. (1981, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

British PoWs have built biggest S.E.A.C. airbase. (1946, March 17). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Changi Airport: Singapore. (1980). Singapore: Ministry of Communication; Changi Airport Development Division: Public Works Department: Department of Civil Aviation.
(Call no.: RSING 387.7362095957 CHA)

Changi Airport wins World's Best Airport award for second consecutive year in 2014. (2014, March 27). Singapore Government News. Retrieved from Factiva.

Chng, G, & Tan, W. H. (1981, July 2). SQ 101 makes first Changi landing with 140. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Department of Civil Aviation and Archives & Oral History Department. (1982).Singapore fly-past: A pictorial review of civil aviation in Singapore, 1911–1981 (pp. 79–93). Singapore: MPH Magazines.
(Call no.: RSING 387.7095957 SIN)

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 EDW)

Hutton, P. (1981). Wings over Singapore: The story of Singapore Changi Airport (pp. 20–21). Singapore: MPH Magazines.
(Call no.: RSING 387.736095957 HUT)

Kaur, K. (2008, January 10). T3 takes off. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Kaur, K. (2002, February 9). Next stop: Changi Airport. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Kaur, K. (2012, May 7). Getting set for move from Budget Terminal. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.

Morton, J. K. (2001). Changi: Singapore international airport. Shrewsbury: Airlife.
(Call no.: RSING 387.736095957 MOR)

Sim, M. (2006, March 26). One airline at Budget Terminal: Govt unfazed. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Tan, C. (1999, January 30). Changi's Terminal 3 to be delayed a year. The Business Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Changi Airport Group. (2013). About Changi Airport. Retrieved from Singapore Changi Airport website:

Further Readings
Kishnani, N. (2002). Designing the world's best: Singapore Changi Airport. Singapore: Page One Pub.
(Call no.: RSING 725.39095957 NIR)

Planes queue up to take-off for Changi. (1981, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Wee, E., & Yang, W. (1981, July 2). Sim oversees the first day's operations.  The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

The information in this article is valid as at 9 April 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

International airports--Singapore
Science and technology>>Engineering>>Transportation engineering
Law and government>>Safety administration>>Air transportation
Public buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Civic and Administrative Buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings
Commerce and Industry>>Transportation

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2014.