Meet the ACI World Governing Board: Lee Seow Hiang

Sabrina Guerrieri by Sabrina Guerrieri | Nov 6, 2019

Over the course of the year, readers of ACI Insights will have the opportunity to meet each ACI World Governing Board (WGB) member. This article features Lee Seow Hiang, Chief Executive Officer, Changi Airport Group.

Mr. Lee is concurrently Deputy Chairman of Changi Airports International Pte Ltd, Director of Jewel Changi Airport Holding Pte Ltd and Chairman of Changi Foundation Board. He holds the appointment of President of Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific Regional Board and is a Member on the ACI World Governing Board. He also sits on the Board of NTUC FairPrice Co-operative Ltd and SMRT Corporation Ltd.

From 1989 to 2005, Mr. Lee held various appointments in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) and the Ministry of Defence, with his last appointment being Deputy Head of Air Operations in HQ RSAF. From 2005 to 2008, he was the Principal Private Secretary to Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Mr. Lee was awarded the SAF (Overseas)/President’s Scholarship in 1989 and the SAF Postgraduate Scholarship (General Development) in 2002. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Cambridge, UK, and a Master of Business Administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA.

What word describes you the best?


What do you see as ACI’s primary role in the modern airport industry?

Be the voice of airports and serve as an effective bridge between the industry and world bodies like ICAO and IATA.

What would you like to accomplish during your term on the ACI World Governing Board?

Safety and security are the cornerstones of aviation. ACI has laid strong foundations in these areas and it is important to keep this focus.

Having said that, the aviation landscape is constantly evolving amid rapid growth, and this brings about new challenges which demand attention. During my term, I would like to see that ACI keeps itself relevant to the changing needs of the aviation industry.

Based on projections, the growth of aviation looks set to continue at an unprecedented pace, due largely to the rapid urbanization that is seen in many regions around the world. Fuel cost is tracking at a lower trajectory as compared to the past, and this contributes to lower costs of travel. In addition, there is growing realization of the need for connectivity to generate business beyond domestic markets.

With growth however, come challenges. Airports need to keep growing their capacity, and infrastructure takes years to build. Airports need to finance this capacity building, but there is no coherent consensus on how to do so, even among different partners of the aviation value chain. While some countries have government resources to heavily subsidize such infrastructure, this is not a model that is possible for all countries. Those without sufficient resources would still need aviation links to support global economic growth, so there needs to be alternative financing options, for which the burden can be reasonably shared by passengers, airlines and airports.

On the environment front, concerns remain. While there has been no fundamental breakthrough in technology in the aviation industry, like what we have seen for electric cars, we take it to heart that every generation of new aircraft model is adopting far more efficient technologies than previous models. For airports, one way that ACI could add value is to support the development of smarter buildings, which could contribute to the revolution of energy usage.

There is also great value for ACI, as a body of knowledge, to share best practices with members as quickly as possible and to put different building blocks in place to help members overcome challenges in this constantly evolving landscape.

What are some of the innovations happening at your airport and how is it benefiting airport stakeholders in a tangible way?

The explosion of digital technology has fundamentally transformed many businesses around the world, including those in the aviation industry. Airports are no exception. We need to embrace digital transformation to keep our business model relevant and exploit the opportunities that technology can offer, to serve our customers in new ways.

When Changi opened Terminal 4 in October 2017, we launched the Fast And Seamless Travel (FAST) initiative, which enabled us to increase operational efficiency and handling capacity. This included the implementation of a facial recognition system, from the start of a passenger’s departure journey. Once a passenger’s passport is scanned at the check-in kiosk, his or her face will be the one common denominator at all other touch points until boarding of the aircraft. This has allowed our passengers to glide from the curbside to the aircraft seamlessly, without compromising security.

Besides in-terminal initiatives, improvements were also made at the airside. Changi has an Airport Collaboration Decision Making Initiative (A-CDM) which enables airport partners such as airlines, ground handlers and air traffic controllers to share information on airport and flight operations, thus enhancing operational efficiency.

A mobile app was also developed to help airside workers improve their productivity. Functions of the app include easy submission of feedback, a repository of work procedure documents that staff can access on-the-go, news updates to keep staff abreast of latest airport developments and events, as well as updated aircraft arrival and departure timings to allow staff to manage their schedules with greater flexibility.

Airports are often described as generators of socio-economic benefits to communities, States and regions at large. How does your airport engage with and serve its surrounding community (e.g., initiatives)?

Like most airports in the region and around the world, we are focused on keeping capacity expansion in place. To ensure broad community support in these capacity plans, we are also making sure that our airport infrastructure not only serves travellers but also has direct relevance and benefit to the community that it supports.

One of the challenges faced by airports is the lack of public awareness or understanding of the socio-economic value that an airport brings. Airports have great externalities, but people are often unfamiliar with what these are.

Therefore, it is important for airports to show their relevance beyond travel. It is understandable for the public to take for granted the macro-benefits generated when they barely use the airport. When personal interaction with the infrastructure is too infrequent, there will be a disconnect between economic benefits and personal interaction with the place.

At Changi, we try to break this disconnect by making the space useable, friendly and inviting for the public even if they are not travelling. We are testing this concept through the launch of Jewel Changi Airport as an integrated multi-dimensional space that serves the strategic purpose of providing value to travellers and local residents at the same time.

What’s next for aviation?

The challenges faced by the aviation industry are real. These challenges can take either physical or digital forms and even present themselves in new dimensions, such as the flying of drones and the impact on aviation safety and airport operations.

The aviation industry needs to keep on the right part of the innovation curve, and to apply technology to help it counter constraints, be it in the form of carbon emissions, safety or security challenges.

Going forward, aviation needs to embrace innovation to help counter constraints and challenges, to be able to transcend them.

The WGB consists of 28 representatives nominated by the regional ACI Boards, plus the Immediate Past Chair of the Board. The number of regional representatives is calculated based on each region’s share of passenger and cargo traffic.

The ACI WGB meets twice a year for strategic discussions on key subjects for airport operators that reflect the concerns and interests of ACI members. They also determine ACI’s worldwide policies, report to the General Assembly, approve the budget, worldwide programme of activities, policy statements and participation in the work of other world bodies, among other duties.

Sabrina Guerrieri

Sabrina Guerrieri

Manager, Communications, ACI World
Sabrina Guerrieri is ACI World's Communications Manager with over 7 years of aviation experience working in corporate and B2B communications. Skilled in writing and editing, promoting and protecting brand reputation, project management, stakeholder engagement and alignment, integrated and data-driven campaigns.
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