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Apr 21, 2019

Ushering Singapore into the Jet Age

Construction of airport buildings began in mid-1936 when reclamation and consolidation of land were completed.  The new airport was officially declared open by the Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Tomas, on 12 June, 1937.  The air corridor to Kallang brought planes over the waterfront. 

In October, 1951, the BOAC Comet I became the first jetliner to land at Kallang, ushering Singapore into the jet age in the process.

Kallang Airport with decorations to celebrate the Queen's coronation in 1953.  It was built by the British colonial government.  In the 1930s as Singapore's first commercial international airport building.  Officially opened on 12 June, 1937 by Governor of the Straits Settlements Sir Shenton Thomas, the airport was replaced by Paya Lebar Airport in 1955.

More related blog about the former Kallang Airport here .

The air hostesses add glamour to the Kallang Airport

Four of the six new hostesses who began learning their jobs at Kallang Airport on 4 July, 1955 took time off to pose for this Singapore Standard picture.

They have been selected to augment the staff at the new international airport which was opened on 26 August, 1955.

From left:  Misses Maggie Seow, Lina Chin, Katherine Tan, Eunice Lecomber.

According to Singapore Standard's report on 20 July, 1950, the Singapore Finance Committee has voted $115,000 for investigations into the suitability of developing Kallang Airport.

This follows the abandonment of the use of Tengah by civil aircraft jointly with the RAF which makes it necessary to provide a civil airport for Malaya capable of accepting modern commercial aircraft.

A prediction of a bright future for Kallang Airport as an important world-feeder airport for aircraft not exceeding 60,000 lbs. bearing weight was made by RAF.  The Kallang Airport is excellent, a first-class aerodrome for planes of the Dakota type, and played an important role in the city's progress and prominence in the air-world. 

PWD experts have reported that the Kallang runway is generally stronger than was previously thought possible and will be safe for fully-loaded Constellations.

The QANTAS ground organisation's new home in the terminal building at Kallang would become the colony's only airport and much busier than has ever been.

The move follows exhaustive tests of the runway at Kallang.  Experts of the Public Works Department have reported that the strengthened runway is safe for the heaviest tyopes of Constellations such as those operated on BOAC-QANTAS-Kangaroo route.

Paya Lebar Airport

The Door to Singapore

Source:  The Straits Times, 21 August 1955.

A fanfare of trumpets and the hoisting of 16 flags signalled the opening of Singapore's multi-million dollar Paya Lebar airport on 20 August 1955 by the Colonial Secretary, Mr Alan Lennox-Boyd.

The historic event, watched by more than 10,000 people was preceded by: a world record short flight by a Super-Constellation - two minutes from Kallang to Paya Lebar.

Hundred of people skipped going to the races and went to Paya Lebar hours before the $37 million airport was actually opened.

For them there was a full and interesting programme, which included a display of an RAF helicopter and Canberra bomber.  There was also an exhibition of heavy machinery used in the building at the airport site.  The Royal Singapore Flying Club put on an aeronautical display.

But the most interested and surprised spectators were 60 squatters.  For them, a miracle had happened.  Many of them born at Paya Lebar had had their farms on the airport site.  They were displaced when work on the site began.

Mr Lennox-Boyd spoke of the rapid manner in which Singapore had advanced in air travel.

He said: "When Sir Stamford Raffles first came here, it took three months to come from Britain.  Now ministers in the United Kingdom and Singapore can descend on one another with alarming rapidity.

Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's decision to relocate Paya Lebar Airport

Economic development is often linked with infrastructure development, which means that airports are expected to further the development of the economies of the surrounding regions. Transportation in general affects the development of cities, with air travel having a large stake in both short- and long-distance transportation.  But the economic value created by the industry is more than that. The principal benefits are created for the customer, the passenger or shipper using the air transport service.

In addition, the connections created between cities and markets represent an important infrastructure asset that generates benefits through enabling foreign direct investment, business clusters, specialisation and other spill-over impacts on an economy’s productive capacity. As a whole, the air transport industry has a substantial economic impact, both through its own activities and as an enabler of other industries.

By facilitating tourism and trade, airports and air travel generate economic growth, provide jobs, increase revenues from taxes, and foster the conservation of protected areas. The air transport network facilitates the delivery of emergency and humanitarian aid relief anywhere in the world, and ensures the swift delivery of medical supplies and organs for transplantation.

With the rapid increase of air travellers to Singapore in the 1970s, the runways for Paya Lebar airport was not appropriate for expansion to cater to the arrival of more passengers and cargo in the future.

With the courtesy of the following newspaper articles of below:

A $2b decision that paid off (The Straits Times, 20 August 1965)

Moving the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi took some guts.

It was a bold decision which turned out to be right, said Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Because Singapore Airlines was doing well and the tourists were coming in, the government decided in 1975 to take a gamble.

It scrapped Paya Lebar Airport.  That meant writing off $600 million worth of investment.

The choice was either to build a second runway in Paya Lebar over Sungei Serangoon or move to Changi.

There was no guarantee that the clay under Sungei Serangoon would not sink.  Expansion at Paya Lebar Airport also meant that aircraft would be flying over the city areas.

"We wrote off that $600 million and decided on a $2 billion investment in Changi.  A bold decision, right, of course ..."

MM: Changi Airport must keep growing (The Straits Times, 2 July 2006)

By Ann Chia, Karamjit Kaur

External consultants wanted Paya Lebar expanded.  The Cabinet reluctantly agreed.  Yet Changi Airport was built and went on to garner 250 awards and accolades over its 25-year history.

The man who green-lighted the proposal to relocate the airport from Paya Lebar to Changi revealed last night how this Singapore icon came to be built.

But more important than its history, he said, is the need for it to keep growing.

Said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew:  "The competition for Changi's hub position has grown keener with newer, bigger airports around."

Cost pressures in the form of new aircraft technology and low-cost carriers add to competitive stresses, he warned.

Changi has never been just an airport, but an international gateway introducing visitors to the way Singapore works.

"Changi international recognition is a valuable and visible extension of Singapore's reputation for excellence, for reliability and for dependability," he said.

The Government, for its part, will continue to liberalise its air-service agreements with China, India and Asean nations to boost the growth of local and foreign carriers at Changi.

He applauded the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore for responding to challenges in the aviation sector, noting that it had taken steps last year to keep costs competitive while improving efficiency and service levels.

With him at a dinner last night to celebrate the airport's 25th anniversary at Swissotel The Stamford were some of the 3,500 people who have been at the airport since day one.  They heard him tell the story of the airport's birth.

The initial plan was to expand Paya Lebar.  But Mr Lee disagreed.  Its expansion would be limited by its proximity to the city centre, he said, and the Serangoon River would have to be filled in to accommodate a second runway.  In addition, planes flying over the populated area would add to the noise and air pollution.

Moving to the former British airbase at Changi would mean aircraft approaching the island over the water, he argued.

But external advisers said moving the airport would be costly, especially since $800 million had already been poured into Paya Lebar.

The Cabinet reluctantly agreed to expand Paya Lebar.

But the plan was complicated by the 1973 oil crisis, which led to fewer planes landing at Paya Lebar and made the need for a second runway less pressing.

Taking the opportunity to reconsider the decision, Mr Lee asked then-chairman of the Port of Singapore Authority Howe Yoon Chong to head a team to look into the implication of a move to Changi instead.

The anwer?  Changi could be ready by 1981, at a cost of some $1.5 billion.

"I believed that in the long term, this would be the better option," said Mr Lee.

In 1975, war broke out in Vietnam and he had to decide quickly whether the airport should stick to the 1981 deadline.  He cabled acting prime minister Goh Keng Swee from Washington and told him to proceed as planned.

Changi Airport was ready in July 1981.  In its first year, it handled eight million passengers and 200,000 tonnes of cargo.  Today, it handles four times as many passengers and nine times as much cargo.

Please watch the Changi Airport Terminal 1 video debut 38 years ago.



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