Changi Terminal 5: Mega Terminal, Mega Concerns

Terminal 5 is a massive expansion to Changi Airport that is due to open in the mid 2020s. This Terminal is reputedly going to be bigger than all of Terminal One to Three combined, and will help Singapore to handle its air travel volume for the next 50 years. Terminal 5 will be located at the reclaimed land east of the existing terminals, and will feature a new runway, thus bringing the total number of runways in Changi to 3.


The preliminary layout for the airport has been released. Two proposals were mooted, one consisting of a t-shaped main terminal and a t-shaped satellite, while the other one features a y-shaped main terminal and two y-shaped satellite terminals.

Changi 2

Layout 1: Y-Shaped Design
Changi 4

Layout 2: T-Shaped Design

This is the first time that a mega terminal will be constructed in Singapore, and we can clearly see that the design departs radically from the existing Changi terminals. The construction of Terminal 5 is the equivalent of starting on an entirely new airport, since Terminal 5 sits on its own piece of land and is separated from Terminals 1 through 4 by a runway. Terminal 5 calls for new infrastructure, such as new expressways, new train stations, new cargo handling systems, and even a new control tower.


After seeing the initial designs for Changi Terminal 5, I had several misgivings about the layout. Firstly, Option 1 is an almost identical copy of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport, while Option 2 highly resembles Beijing’s Capital Airport Terminal 3.


Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok Airport

Changi 1

Changi T5 Option 1 – Notice the similarities?


Beijing Capital Airport

Changi 3

Changi T5 Option 2 – Notice the similarities?

It is not to say that it is bad to copy such designs, since Terminal 1 was also an almost identical copy of Taiwan’s Taoyuan Airport. Instead, the problem with mega terminals like Chek Lap Kok or the Capital Airport Terminal 3 is its scale. In an attempt to be monumental and impressive, the airport designers have compromised the human element in the design. When the distance between the check in desk and the furthest gate is over 3.3 kilometers and only reachable through a shuttle train, you know that the terminal is not passenger friendly.

Image result for beijing capital airport tram

 Beijing Capital Airport’s Tram System

Changi prides itself in its short handling time, and speedy procedures. Currently, the furthest distance from the finger pier to the arrival hall is only 918 meters (Gate A17 at Terminal 3). Luggage is sent rapidly through the system, and passengers need not walk long distances to reach their destination.

Changi_airport_transit_map (1)

 Changi’s compact layout

However, with the construction of a mega terminal, all this will be gone, and passengers would have to traverse miles of corridors and trams just to get to their gates. Passengers generally would like their gates to be within walking distance. Shuttle trains are a hassle to board, and causes passengers to lose their sense of control since they are now contingent on the shuttle train schedule, and not in control of their own pace.

Furthermore, the mega terminals also make design changes highly difficult. As the terminal will most likely be built within one or two phases, the design is more or less set in stone. However, aviation is an industry that is highly unpredictable and changes very quickly. Therefore, by constructing a mega terminal within a short timespan, airports risk being outdated rapidly.

For example, in the pre-911 days, airports have most of their retail and hospitality offerings located on the landside area. However, due to the increased security checks after September 11, airports now have to shift most of their retail and hospitality features to the airside area, so as to encourage passengers to clear immigrations and security as early as possible and leave the landside area. This fundamental shift in design paradigm will be almost impossible to implement in a mega terminal.

Another example would be the evolution of the aircrafts. In the past decade, we see the introduction of increasingly larger aircrafts by both the Boeing and the Airbus companies. The A380 is so huge that dedicated piers had to be constructed, and runways had to be reinforced in order to handle it. In a mega terminal like Charles De Gaulle Terminal 2, dedicated satellite terminals had to be carved out in the middle of the tarmacs to handle the new aircrafts. However, in Changi, the introduction of the A380 coincided with the construction of Terminal Three, thus Terminal Three was custom fitted with larger piers to handle the A380s.


CDG airport’s Satellite Terminals had to be constructed because A380s could not fit into the mega Terminal 2

Furthermore, we also see the increasing trend of small commercial aircrafts in Asia. Following the proliferation of budget airlines and regional carriers, usage of small Code C and D aircrafts. We see a similar situation in Europe with the integration of the EU and the proliferation of regional airlines. Thus, Munich Airport faces capacity issues since the two terminals there were designed for large aircrafts, and not smaller ones. If a mega terminal were to be constructed, then there will be no room for adjustment as all the terminals and piers would be fixed.

Therefore, we can see that due to the unpredictability of the changes in the aviation industry, constructing a mega terminal is usually not a good idea. Since Singapore doesn’t actually face capacity issues, and Terminal 5 will be constructed way ahead of passenger demand, I feel that it will be wiser to construct the terminal in stages, rather than as a mega terminal. In this way, the staggered construction will allow design changes and alterations that can be done to keep up with the changing industry. Although Terminal One through Three was part of the same master plan, the gap of 30 years between the construction of Terminal One and Terminal Three meant that Terminal Three contained some radical improvements from Terminal One.

In most mega terminals, the departure and arrival halls are constructed in the first phase, with subsequent expansions of the docking piers in the following phases. This means that the design and the functionality of the departure and arrival hall will be fixed, as opposed to the construction of separate terminals, where the arrival and departure hall of different terminals can improve with the times.

There are three main limiting factors to a terminal, which are:

a. Check in and arrival capacity

b. Aircraft docking capacity

c. Runway capacity

By constructing a mega terminal, factor A is mostly fixed since the arrival and check in facility is built in phase one, thus only leaving factor B open for expansion. However, with the construction of three smaller terminals on the same plot of land, both factor A and B can be easily increased.

Furthermore, the changes and alterations can be done independently of the other components of the airport. During the construction of Terminal Two and Three, as well as the upgrading of Terminal One through Three at Changi, none of the other terminals were affected, and operations continued normally. However, in a mega terminal, expansions and renovations are bound to affect the entire terminal, and all operations at that terminal will be affected. For example, the construction of satellite terminals in the future (after the commencement of operations at Terminal 5) will definitely entail the disruption of existing airport services at that terminal, such as the rerouting of the transit system, or the redirecting of the baggage handling system, or the expansion of the check in system.


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