Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore, Singapore | C.1981

Photo Credit: RJ Damole

Singapore’s Changi airport has several claims to fame. At the time of its opening in 1981, it boasted several record-breaking achievements, including being built in a record time of six years, being ranked with Tokyo’s Narita Airport as Asia’s largest airport, and having the world’s largest column-free hangar, spanning 20,000 sq meters (215,278 sq ft).

The original Changi Airbase, previously on this site, was built by World War II prisoners-of-war from 1943 to 1944. The Royal Air Force took over the airbase in 1946. At the time, the north-south and east-west strips were unpaved, thinly grassed runways. Japanese prisoners added perforated steel plates on the east-west strip and strengthened the north-south runway. The latter then served as the main runway for military aircraft until 1949.

In the early 1970s, Paya Lebar Airport, then Singapore’s civil airport, did not have sufficient space for future expansion. A new airport was needed in a location where it would not interfere with high-rise developments. Changi airbase was selected as the site for this new airport.

In June 1975, preparation work began on the Changi airbase site for an international airport. At least 8.7 sq km (3.4 sq m) of land was reclaimed and canals were constructed to divert water from three existing streams flowing through the airport site. The airport was finished in record time despite a shortage of materials and workers.

Singapore Changi Airport became operational on July 1st, 1981 and was officially opened five months later. The first flight, SQ 101, carrying 140 passengers from Kuala Lumpur, touched down at 7:10 am on July 1st 1981, and the first flight departing the airport left at 8 am on the same day, bound for Penang.

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