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Sep 30, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Air Travel in Singapore

Entrance to the Kallang Airport c 1945
Crowd at Kallang Airport during Singapore Air Display 1949
These archived photos are shared on this blog with acknowledgement and thanks to the National Archives of Singapore (NAS).

Kallang Airport

Kallang Airport, Singapore's first civil airport, located in Kallang was completed at a cost of S$8 million and opened on 12 June 1937, functioning as an airport until it was replaced by Paya Lebar International airport in 1955.


In 1923, the British government decided to construct an airbase for seaplanes at Sembawang, near the proposed naval base, and a Royal Air Force base at Seletar. The Seletar aerodrome was completed in the late 1920s and at first served civil aircraft as well as the Royal Air Force. However, regular air communications did not come until the 1930s.

On 31 August 1931, Governor Sir Cecil Clementi announced that the government had decided on Kallang Basin as the location for the new civil aerodrome suitable, for land planes and seaplanes, replacing the Royal Air base at Seletar.

Proposing this new civil airport, Sir Cecil Clementi had proclaimed: "Looking into the future, I expect to see Singapore become one of the largest and most important airports of the world ... It is, therefore, essential that we should have here, close to the heart of the town, an aerodrome which is equally suitable for land planes and for sea planes; and the best site, beyond all question, is the Kallang Basin."

Work on the massive reclamation task began in 1932, with the filling and reclamation of mangrove swamps and land from the sea around Kallang Basin. Kallang Airport was officially opened on 12 June 1937 by the Governor, Sir Shenton Thomas. A few years later with the introduction of BOAC Comets, the airfield had to be further extended, and in the meantime Comets used RAF Changi.


Its grassy landing zone, slipway for seaplanes, as well as a handsome terminal building, gave Kallang a reputation as the "finest airport in the British Empire". During a 1938 stopover, Amelia Earhart called the airport "an aviation miracle of the East". Its magnificent grass landing was made into a concrete runway by the Japanese who built a concrete runway in World War II , extending to 5,500 ft. It was further extended after the war, but it was not until 1949 that all civil traffic operated again in Kallang.

The main terminal building had a control tower and two side blocks with attached hangers. Reflecting early-modernist British architecture, its interiors were detailed with Art Deco ornamentation like its intricate railings and columns.


21 Nov 1935 : The first aircraft to land at Kallang was a flight of Hawker Ospreys off the aircraft HMS Hermes.
1940s : Increased traffic through Singapore strains the capacity of the airport.
1951 : Plans set up to build the Paya Lebar International Airport.
13 May 1954 : Kallang airport sees its first air-crash when a G-ALAM touched down too soon at the seaward end of the Kallang runway.
1955 : With the new Paya Lebar Airport operational, the Singapore Youth Sports Council moved into the old Kallang airport.
Mar 1956 : The Kallang Airport became a historical meeting point for 20,000 gathered for a mass rally headed by Chief Minister David Marshall in a call for independence. His merdeka salute led several people to climb on stage with him. The weight of the masses caused the stage to collapse, the disaster marking Marshall's credibility in the first Merdeka talks in London merely four days later, delaying negotiations over the independence of  Singapore.
1960 : The People's Association (PA) make the building its head-quarters. They occupied the terminal and one of the side towers whilst the other was used by the Public Works Department (PWD). The later block was renamed the Youth Block when the PA took it back from the PWD.
Mar 1994 : The buildings are reopened after conservation works of S$4.16 million. Restored are its green tinted windows; the original main entrance located in the middle, facing Kallang Road; its four tiers of steps at the base of the building giving a podium-look; and a reconstruction of the airport's emblem, a lion against a coconut tree.

Vernon Cornelius
Source:  singgapore Infopedia - An electronic encyclopedia on Singapore's history, culture, people and events.

Kallang Airport  c 1945

The Kallang Airport is Singapore’s first purpose-built civil airport and was touted as one of the most modern airports of its time. With the iconic architecture of the Terminal Building, and its rich social history adding depth as a backdrop for the area, the conservation of the selected buildings and structures at Kallang Airport serves as physical reminders and markers of the humble origins of the development of Kallang and its role in establishing Singapore’s position on the international aviation map.  Gazetted on 5 Dec 2008 for conservation.  (Source: Urban Redevelopment Authority).

Malayan Airways plane at Kallang Airport  c 1950

Nostalgia friends who have travelled from Kallang Airport in Singapore in the past are invited to share their memories and experiences at Singapore Memory Portal .

Uploaded by on Oct 28, 2010
How could this 4-storey building, which is even shorter than kite-flying or a typical HDB block, be an international airport of Singapore in the past? Join NUS student Jonathan Lim, as he rediscovers the birds and bees of the Old Kallang Airport.

My blogger friend, Philip Chew of "My Chew Joo Chiat Story" blog share his nostalgia blog on other modes of travel in Singapore in the past  -  "Joo Chiat Railway Line" .



Blogger PChew said...

It would be interesting if your story is link to my blog post "Joo Chiat Railway Line".

September 30, 2012 at 1:07 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thank you for sharing nostalgia blog on "Joo Chiat Railway Line" on your interesting about "Joo Chiat Railing Line' to link from this blog.


October 2, 2012 at 10:17 PM  

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