The Airport Experience in Asia

The concept of an airport has undergone a major transformation particularly in Asia.

The rise of Aviation in Asia is staggering. It is anticipated that in the next 15 years Asian passenger numbers will grow to five billion a year, more than Europe and America combined. With half the world’s air traffic arriving and departing out of Asia; it will be Asian airports that define our future travel experiences.

Asia – A Growing Market

Many airports in Asia are already bursting at the seams. Airports such as Jakarta International Airport (Soekarno-Hatta) are experiencing growth rates of close to 20% a year and already running at 150% capacity. Countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which are spread out over vast archipelagos, are reliant on air travel to connect people within their own countries.  The difference between International and Domestic passengers at these airport HUBs can be quite distinct. This can include major differences in facilities provided and the revenue generation options available to the airport operator. This varying degree of passenger wealth and expectation can be challenging to designers but also holds opportunities to re-invent the airport experience.

No-where does a work force migrate more than in Asia. Hundreds of millions of migrant workers move throughout the region every year. Largely driven by the economic success of a particular country, people are forced to follow employment. Added to this, during the Lunar New Year, up to 500 million additional people move through China alone, traditionally putting huge strains on roads and rails systems. But the arrival of low cost airlines combined with an increased minimum wage, means many migrant workers, as well as those celebrating the Chinese New Year holiday, are turning to the convenience of air travel. It is these extreme peaks in passenger movement that the super Aviation HUBs of Asia must deal with in the future.

The Romance of the Airport Experience

Travel is still romantic in Asia. For many, travel remains an aspirational experience and airports in the region are filled with passengers taking their first flight, or families seeing their relatives off on their first overseas journey. It is not uncommon for families to visit airports for the thrill of watching planes take off and land, with no intention of travelling themselves.

Airports are exciting places in Asia. With the ever-rising middle class in the region, more and more people are being welcomed into the world of air travel. In 2009, Asia accounted for only 23% of global middle-class consumption and 28% of the middle-class population, but by 2030 this figure will double if not triple. Every year between now and 2030, more than 100 million people will enter the middle-class in Asia, with enormous consequences for travel in the region.

As architects this is a fascinating and challenging proposition. Unlike in the West, where the majority of passengers are familiar with the processing requirements of an airport, in many parts of Asia first time travellers are mixed in with seasoned veterans, not to mention the numerous language, religious and cultural requirements. This results in large numbers of passengers with very different expectations, requiring varying levels of service, security and amenities.

In many regional airports there is a pioneering feel to aviation much like in the 1960s in the West. With an array of interesting and exotic destinations in the region the opportunity is also growing for short haul weekend explorations which also helps lift the profile of the industry.

Associating airports and flight with excitement, entertainment and fun will also help create new markets. The next step in this progression will be making the airport a destination in itself. The excitement, fun and loyalty associated with Sports and Entertainment venues is the direction airports need to take to develop and capitalize upon, to see this new market develop to its potential. It is critical to capture the passion of flight in its early stages and not let the romance of travel decline as it has done in the West.

The Commercial Value of Airports

Airports in Asia are beginning to see the commercial value in the increasing numbers of passengers and the growing middle class. In addition, to incorporating a variety of commercial functions into passenger terminals, airports are developing their landside areas. This includes the growth of hotels, office and retail complexes, conference and exhibition centres, logistics, and free trade zones. Consequently, many airports now receive greater percentages of their revenues from non-aeronautical sources than from aeronautical sources.

In Brett’s next blog he will explore the commercial and customer centric design techniques specific to Asian Airports and the alternative revenue streams that are achievable in an Asian Airport context.


  1. Thanks for your look at airports in Asia. Just some further observations from me – just an airport addict, not an architect:

    Singapore and Kuala Lumpur already had “Budget Terminals” within their airport boundaries.
    These, a bit like London’s Stansted is to Heathrow, were the dirty stepchildren catering to that very same budding middle class, looking for value for money, rather than romance, for their weekend trips abroad – and consequently choosing one of Asia’s many Low Cost Carriers (Air Asia, tigerair, Jetstar).
    At this time both airports are constructing rather more palatial edifices (KLIA 2 at KUL, Terminal 4 at SIN) so as to no longer compromise the old guiding light of “Our Airport Is a Symbol of National Pride And A Showcase To The World” that hat guided Asian airport construction up until now.
    It’ll be fascinating to see this evolve: will budget airlines win the day and press airports in Asia, al they have in Europe, to build more basic sheds to keep landing fees down or will airport operators keep the upper hand?
    Interestingly also, Asia’s oldest advanced economy, Japan, is still clinging the most to the airport-as-local-excursion-destination paradigm, with world-class free observation decks and the number of retail and f&b outlets on the public side dwarfing that on the airside. Seemingly with success.
    Singapore’s Changi is straddling both sides very well, with vast airside shopping too (research “Project Jewel” for what they plan to do to enormously enhance the landside) while Hong Kong and Incheon, Korea seem to draw only true airplane enthusiasts to their premises; shoppers, not so much.
    Meanwhile, current terminal expansions (notably new midfield satellite concourses at Bangkok and Hong Kong) are still being designed with only widebody aircraft parking stands, seemingly oblivious to the obvious explosion of 150-to-220-seat-narrowbodies (A320 and B 737 family aircrft) in the Low Cost Carriers’ fleets. I wonder why!

    Greetings from Hamburg,Germany

    Matthias Moehring
    March 25, 2014
    • Matt, hi

      Thanks for you comments. Your right it is an interesting time particularly in Asia at the moment. We are seeing some pretty interesting directions in landslide facilities, from entertainment arenas, stadiums and even theme parks. There is a passion for flight in Asia that I think has been lost in the West.


      December 19, 2014

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