Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Appreciation to Frontline Workers: Changi Airport Visit on 28 August 2021.
Mr. Lee Seow Hiang, CEO, Changi Airport Group,
Prof Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth
Prof Ng Wai Hoe, CEO, Changi General Hospital,
Members of our Changi aviation community,
A very good afternoon.
I am pleased to be here at Changi Airport today with my East Coast team – Maliki, Kiat How, Jessica and Cheryl.
The Singapore aviation community is facing an unprecedented crisis, and going through turbulent times. I vividly remember my visit to Changi Airport soon after COVID-19 struck. Planes were grounded, airport terminals were empty, and aerospace services came to a standstill. Since the start of the pandemic, we have provided more than $1billion in support to preserve jobs and capabilities in the aviation sector. More than one and a half years on, we have restored some connectivity, but the aviation sector remains badly affected. Flights are now at about 15% of pre-COVID levels, but passenger volumes are only at 3% of what it was before. Last week, Singapore made further moves to reopen our borders in a cautious and calibrated manner, but we are still some time away from full recovery.
What struck me was how the aviation community responded to this crisis. Not in despair or anguish. But in solidarity and with resilience. Not by going this alone, but by working together as a community. When air traffic volume plunged, the aviation community came together, working with unions and government agencies, to redeploy excess workers to support the national fight against the pandemic. You worked together to regularly adjust your operations and protocols as the virus evolved. This enabled us to gradually resume operations while keeping our airport workers safe. Even though Changi Airport was not able to serve as many passengers, the airport won Skytrax's World’s Best Airport Staff award this year. This shows your commitment to serve passengers to the best of your ability despite the tremendous challenges. I am heartened to see ground-up initiatives – such as the Friends of Aviation movement started by CAAS officers – to show appreciation for fellow workers in the aviation community. As an aviation community, you also rallied together and donated more than 1,000 oxygen concentrators to Indonesia. Indonesia is one of our closest neighbours, and it is important for us to recover as a region.
By working closely together, the aviation community is collectively charting the course through the crisis and ensuring that we can remain a vibrant aviation hub post-COVID-19. I am greatly encouraged by the close partnership between our companies, unions and government agencies. You have taken the down time to upgrade, transform and better position Changi as a post-pandemic aviation hub. From next week, T1 and T3 will be reopened to the public. As more people around the world become vaccinated, we can expect more flights to resume and more arrivals.
My East Coast team and I are here today to thank all of you in the aviation community for staying strong, for continuing to adapt and persevere in these difficult circumstances. Not many people know that the East Coast team looks after the Changi area, including Changi Airport. This visit is part of our ongoing effort to recognise those on the frontline. We visited our healthcare workers at CGH recently, and are here today at Changi Airport. We bring with us the care and appreciation of East Coast residents and wider Singaporeans, by distributing 5,000 care packs to our aviation workers. Each care pack is a tote bag comprising delicious pastries and madeleines, and vouchers for more. These are kindly sponsored by OUE Limited. I hope that our aviation workers can enjoy these treats with their families and loved ones. This is a small gesture of our appreciation for the aviation community, and our support for those who work in East Coast. I look forward to the virtual dialogue later, when we can discuss a whole range of issues from the future of air travel, to the important topic of mental well-being.
This spirit of working in collaboration exists not just at Changi Airport, but across different parts of our island. In East Coast, we are building on the strengths of our partnerships to create a more vibrant community. Many associate East Coast with beautiful beaches, Pulau Ubin and a variety of good food. Changi Village and its surroundings have many heritage significances. It is also home to many innovative enterprises, to a general hospital – CGH, and to academic – such as ITE East and SUTD. These elements come together to give East Coast a distinctive buzz.
Over the past year, my team has been working hard with community groups, companies, and institutions in our area to create a more vibrant East Coast. For example, SUTD has been conducting venture building programs in our community, and nurturing promising start-ups in their incubation space. Makerspace activities are coming up next. CapitaLand is working with many companies – such as Amazon Web Services, &ever (“and-ever”) and Honeywell – on new collaborations and activities. Coming soon, residents, including students, will be able to get first-hand insights of these companies through visits, internships, and even hackathons.
Today we are witnessing the signing of an MOU between CAG and CGH to collaborate on a new Travel Wellness Program. The collaboration will study how we can improve the wellness of frequent flyers, as well as seniors and persons with special needs when they travel. We will also study how to enhance the well-being of airport workers, especially in the areas of occupational health and mental wellness. These studies will be particularly salient as we plan for the new normal of air travel. When we get to fly again in the future, we can do so in greater comfort.
Many new exciting opportunities are under development. We will be launching the East Coast Vibrant Plan in due course.
Once again, on behalf of my East Coast team, let me extend our heartfelt appreciation to our aviation community for your commitment and resilience. We hope the care packs will go some way to brighten up your day, and encourage you as the sector embarks on the road to recovery. Together we can build a more caring and vibrant East Coast, and emerge stronger as a nation from COVID-19. Let me also take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy National Day!
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