Singapore will open an ultramodern new US$1.2 billion airport terminal on Wednesday that industry analysts say will reinforce the city-state's position as a regional aviation hub.
Terminal 3, which boasts a five-story vertical garden with waterfalls, will receive its first passengers just months after a new terminal opened in Hong Kong and more than a year after Bangkok's new airport began operating.
Aviation industry competition is intensifying in a region where airline passenger growth is projected to increase faster than the global average.
Analysts said the new terminal will boost the appeal of Singapore's Changi Airport -- particularly compared with its key challenger in Bangkok, which has been plagued with problems since opening in 2006.
"It will push Singapore further ahead of its rivals," said Shukor Yusof at Standard and Poor's Equity Research.
Built at a cost of S$1.75 billion (US$1.22 billion), Terminal 3 offers 380,000m3 of space in a seven-story building.
It can handle 22 million passengers a year, bringing Changi's total capacity to about 70 million, airport operator the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said.
Terminal 3 will add 28 aerobridge gates to Changi, with up to eight designed to handle the world's biggest passenger plane, the superjumbo Airbus A380.
Singapore Airlines became the world's first airline in October to fly the double-decker A380 and will be the first to operate from Terminal 3.
The airline's senior vice president of product and services, Yap Kim-wah, called Terminal 3 "another jewel in the crown for Changi as it cements its position as a leading international hub" -- an assessment analysts agreed with.
The new facility "definitely reinforces Singapore's position," said Jim Eckes, managing director of Hong Kong-based aviation consulting firm Indoswiss Aviation.
With shiny granite floor tiles and carpeted lounges, the terminal has the ambience of a five-star hotel. Trees and plants dot the terminal and the vertical garden, a wall covered with climbing plants and interspersed with waterfalls, provides a dramatic backdrop to the baggage claim area.
One bank executive, sipping wine with dozens of other guests invited for the first A380's arrival, said the terminal "will surely give Singapore an edge."
It is more than twice as large as the 140,000m3 second terminal that opened last June at Hong Kong International Airport.
Since opening a decade ago Hong Kong's airport has seen rapid passenger growth, reaching 44.4 million in 2006, ahead of Changi's record 35.03 million that year.
Analysts say Hong Kong is not a direct competitor to Changi because as well as being an international hub it is the gateway to China's booming aviation market.
The International Air Transport Association says Asia Pacific passenger traffic will grow 5.9 percent annually between last year and 2011, faster than the 5.1 percent global average, and both Hong Kong and Singapore built their new terminals to tap the increasing demand.
"When Singapore builds something, they don't do it for now, they do it for five, 10 years ahead," Yusof said.
Peter Harbison, executive chairman of the Sydney-based Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation consultancy, said "the whole concept of always building ahead of demand is why Singapore has kept its leadership in the region."