Aviation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 19 March 2018)

Mr Speaker, at the recent Committee of Supply Debate for the Ministry of Transport, 2nd Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng shared with this House exciting plans for the further development of Changi Airport, specifically the building of Terminal 5.

Minister Ng told us that we have almost fully utilised all the 66 million passengers per annum (mppa) capacity and by 2019 Jewel Changi Airport will open and bring the total capacity to 85 mppa.

We are further told that T5 will be I quote “a game changer” (unquote) allowing an additional 50 mppa even in its initial phase. As Minister Ng puts it (and I quote): “50 mppa is a 60% increase from Changi’s current capacity and is more than the combined capacities of Terminals 2 and 3” (unquote).

Changi airport has been facing keen competition from other airports including notably Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and Dubai. There is competition from our neighbours or rivals. Suvarnabhumi is set for a 117-billion baht upgrade through 2021 which will include, like us, a third runway. Hong Kong also has plans for a third runway.

Thailand’s development plans for its aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry and aerospace manufacturing sectors include a US$5.7 billion airport upgrade for a MRO facility.

There is competition from other Asean airports for air cargo operations business. There is a constant fight against direct long haul passenger flights between Europe and Australia bypassing Singapore.

It has not been easy. CAG has done a good job thus far. I certainly hope the new proposed levy will not have any negative effect.

The plans for T5 are bold and ambitious. At the business level, I hope that these plans will augur well for Changi airport’s place as a world and regional air hub. It is an exciting time for Changi airport indeed.

Just as the mppa figures which Minister Ng trotted out may have excited me in terms of the potential growth of our airport in the near future, I have a concern with the possible increase in pollution any such expansion may bring.

Admittedly the continuing success of Changi Airport and its future expansion are an important factor in our economy. However, these benefits must also be weighed against any environmental impact Changi airport has on the quality of life of Singaporeans living near the airport and possibly on the eastern and north eastern part of Singapore.

Apart from the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate, there are two kinds of pollution arising from airport operations which have an effect locally: air pollution and noise pollution.

In the case of Changi Airport, some believe that having its runways facing the seas may be useful in reducing land based pollution although wind direction will play a part too for air pollution.

Having said that, it has been recognised that air pollution at airports arises from a combination of aircraft and road traffic emissions associated with the airport. Road traffic includes passenger vehicles like buses, taxis and cars visiting the airport to send or pick up passengers, as well as maintenance vehicles, vehicles carrying luggage, personnel or catering, and even security and fire safety vehicles.

Airports are known to produce large amounts of toxic emissions that are a threat to human health, including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxides, sulphur oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Air pollution through these pollutants can present a public health challenge. Elsewhere it has been variously linked to cancer, asthma, stroke, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, liver damage, diabetes and even obesity, birth defects and dementia.

A bigger Changi means more than just an increase in flights, but also proportionately more of the various ground vehicular traffic I have described above.

We should also not forget any increase in pollution from transporters if Changi should make use of its greater airport capacity to increase its business in air freight and logistics.

If an airport attracts significant local visitors to its retail and food outlets, it will also increase the amount of road traffic. Currently many people love to visit the airport as a form of outing, attracted by plane spotting as well as the large number of retail and food outlets. With Jewel Changi Airport and the huge size of the proposed T5, the airport may attract more visitors for a day out at the airport.

Any increase in road traffic emissions do not just affect the airport location itself but also the roads leading to the airport.

Minister Ng had said that with T5, there will be an additional 50 mppa which is a 60% increase from Changi’s current capacity. Minister Ng cited 50 mppa in its initial phase, so the mppa may possibly increase in subsequent years.

This Bill does propose to enable the making of regulations to give effect to the Chicago Convention and any other international agreement to which Singapore is party, for mitigating specifically the environment effect of international aviation emission.

But even as ICAO have painstakingly agreed in recent years to take various mitigation measures to reduce aviation emissions such as Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia) or new aircraft CO2 emissions standards, etc, they alone may still be insufficient for various reasons such as the non-application of emissions regulation to older aircraft given the relative long life span of aircraft, or the non-uniformed application of regulations across different states. Another example is that carbon offset alone may not guarantee no pollution on the ground. Regulations also do not adequately address ground vehicular road pollution.

Above all, in a case like ours where flight capacity will increase significantly (increase of 60% mppa), I wonder whether the measures will still not prevent a relatively notable increase in air pollution. Perhaps the Minister can explain how the Government intend to use regulations to assist in the control of aviation emission and to control and minimize pollution.

Noise pollution is the other type of pollution we can expect from airports. Residents currently living near Changi or even the air force bases in Paya Lebar or Tengah may perhaps be more used to varying levels of aircraft noise pollution.

Unlike military airports which may have strict flight times in the evening eg between 7-10 pm, many passenger aircraft depart Changi Airport after 10 pm, throughout the night and during the early morning hours.

With the projected 60% increase in mppa, will it bring new levels of noise pollution to residents living in the east and north east such as Changi, Loyang, Pasir Ris, Tampines, Tanah Merah, Bedok, and East Coast?

I would like to ask the minister the following questions in respect of both air and noise pollution:

(1) What are the current levels of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds or any other types of pollutants that are currently generated at Changi Airport and the projected levels of such pollutants which can be expected to be generated when T5 opens?

(2) Has the Government done any studies regarding the projected air and noise pollution that may come with the opening phase of T5 and if so, when can the Government release the details of such studies?

(3) Beyond the application of the international regulations discussed above, will the minister clarify what other measures the Government may be considering to reduce or minimise air pollution from aircraft using Changi? Will the Government consider measures such as additional tariffs for older aircraft to discourage airlines from using older aircraft?

(4) What are the measures which the Government will take to reduce or mitigate the expected increase in air pollution around the airport caused by ground vehicular traffic?

(5) Does the Government intend to introduce any air and noise pollution safeguards to protect people living within a certain distance from the airport, e.g. say a radius of 10-15 km from Changi Airport and if so what are these measures?

Moving to a different issue, with the third runway going to be completed first ahead of the completion of the T5 and with the siting of the T5 at Changi East, will there be any security implications for our air force units and assets currently based in Changi? Is there any intention for our RSAF jets to share the use of any runway with civilian aircraft in Changi International Airport and if so, what measures will be taken to bolster security for our air force units and assets as well as for Changi International Airport generally?

Finally, on the subject of the levy, what is the rationale behind the different levy for origin-destination passengers and transit and transfer passengers currently set at $10.80 and $3.00, respectively per departure, including passengers on one-way tickets to Singapore and thereafter on separate one-way tickets to elsewhere, also set at $10.80?