Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Launch of the SIA-NUS Digital Aviation Corporate Lab on 10 January 2022.
Mr Hsieh Fu Hua, Chairman,
NUS Board of Trustees,
Mr Peter Seah,
Professor Tan Eng Chye,
Mr Goh Choon Phong,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning. I am delighted to be here today to launch the SIA-NUS Digital Aviation Corporate Lab.
Resetting Flight Path
The global aviation industry is undergoing a severe stress test, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The IATA declared 2020 as the worst year ever for the airline industry. At the height of the crisis, global passenger traffic dropped by 60%.
Among airports, Changi was one of the most impacted, as we have no domestic market. Likewise, SIA faced the biggest crisis in its history. In April 2020, passenger capacity plunged to only 3% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
I visited Changi Airport not long after the crisis started. Peter and Choon Phong were with me on that visit. The sight of rows and rows of SIA planes parked on the tarmac left a lasting impression on me.
There have since been some encouraging green shoots of recovery. Late last year, SIA’s passenger capacity improved to 37% of pre-Covid-19 levels.
As we start the year, we can be cautiously optimistic that with higher vaccination rates around the world and better ways of managing the pandemic, we can gradually resume travel. However, we must stay vigilant as new variants emerge.
It is critical that we do all we can to support the recovery of our position as an air hub. Our aviation sector is a key part of our economy. Just before the crisis hit, Changi air hub and its adjacent sectors contributed more than 5% of GDP and provides nearly 200,000 jobs directly.
The aviation sector also has a strong multiplier effect on adjacent industries, including logistics, hospitality, finance and professional services. Our status as a global aviation hub connects Singapore with the rest of the world, enabling our professionals and businesses to serve the wider region and our people to travel to see the world. It is a key pillar for positioning Singapore as a global Asian node.
Hence, when COVID-19 struck, we took strong action to support the sector.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have provided more than $1 billion to support the sector to protect jobs and preserve capabilities.
This has put us in a good position for recovery. But even as we ride through the current turbulence, we must not lose focus on our destination.
COVID has accelerated trends including the shift to digital and an emphasis on sustainability. These will reshape many industries, including aviation.
Post-COVID, the global aviation industry will be reshaped significantly.
To emerge stronger, we must reset our flight path so that we can soar higher.
SIA – NUS Corporate Lab
I therefore commend SIA and NUS for launching this new Corporate Lab today.
This builds on SIA’s on-going efforts to enhance your digital capabilities.
Your vision is to be the world’s leading digital airline.
In 2018, you launched the Digital Innovation Blueprint, which aims to grow and transform your existing businesses, and to generate new opportunities.
The following year, you launched the digital innovation office, KrisLab, to develop digital solutions and build new digital capabilities, including data analytics and AI.
I visited KrisLab in November 2019, just before COVID-19 hit. Your efforts have borne fruit. Over the past three years, your digital investments have enabled contactless travel, through piloting the use of digital health passports. You have also used AI to improve the customer experience. Last year, you also launched the world’s first in-flight e-shopping experience.
I am glad that in the midst of this current crisis, you are accelerating your digitalisation efforts, to seek out new opportunities.
This new SIA-NUS Corporate Lab will take your digital innovation to a new level, by tapping on the deep research capabilities within NUS.
The Lab will draw from NUS’ multidisciplinary expertise across AI, machine learning, data science, operations research and analytics, design, and medical sciences.
At the same time, NUS will also benefit from the partnership, as it enables faculty members to apply their deep expertise to real-life industry challenges.
As mentioned by Choon Phong and Eng Chye, SIA and NUS will work together to develop new tech solutions to support SIA crew to better manage their operations and serve customers better.
In the initial phase, the Lab will focus on a few key areas, such as reshaping crew training, improving crew wellness, and transforming the onboard customer experience.
For instance, the Lab will be adopting technologies such as eye-tracking, data analytics and virtual reality to train SIA pilots to navigate different scenarios. This is especially important as SIA is stepping up training for pilots who have been flying less frequently due to the pandemic.
The Corporate Lab will also be exploring solutions to promote sustainability.
Currently, aviation accounts for nearly 2% of global emissions. Global airlines, including SIA, have committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
I commend SIA for taking specific actions to fulfill your commitment. You are investing in new-generation aircrafts to achieve higher operational efficiency. You are also adopting low-carbon technology such as sustainable aviation fuels, and sourcing for high-quality carbon offsets.
I encourage the Corporate Lab to develop innovations that can further SIA’s sustainability journey. Done well, this can add to SIA’s competitive position.
Beyond NUS and SIA, the Corporate Lab will also benefit the broader aviation ecosystem in Singapore.
The Lab will be partnering other Singapore-based companies to advance aviation, by pulling together the R&D expertise from various companies.
For example, the Corporate Lab has collaborated with Aviation Virtual, a local technology SME to develop AR/VR solutions for pilot training. The Lab is also partnering Precision Technologies on the cabin simulator.
Such partnerships help to develop the aviation ecosystem, to the benefit of all in the industry.
In conclusion, I congratulate SIA and NUS on this partnership.
I hope that more companies here will consider strengthening your collaborations with our universities and Research Institutes.
This can take the form of Corporate Labs like the one today, or more targeted research collaborations to tackle specific challenges, or industry-research consortia.
At the heart of such partnerships is the tightening of the nexus between research and industry, enabling both sides to learn and benefit from each other.
Finally, I wish SIA all the best in the year ahead. I am confident that when COVID-19 subsides, our national carrier will soar high again.
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