Mr Clarence Chng, an assistant manager at Changi Airport Group, is asked that question all the time, but, really, he just loves his job.

WHENEVER Mr Clarence Chng, lover of all things related to aviation, travels with his wife on short holidays, he always checks in some luggage — even when everything the couple have with them can fit into their carry-on luggage.

That is because he never stops being curious about how quick and efficient the operations are at any airport he uses. Mr Chng, 27, an assistant manager at Changi Airport Group (CAG) in the Airside Operations department (Airport Management Division), says it is not an occupational hazard; he is really just extremely passionate about the ins and outs of the aviation industry.

His enthusiasm for the industry earned him a mid-term scholarship from CAG, where he was an intern. He is now two years and seven months into his current role at the organisation.

His responsibilities include performing operations control in the airfield and baggage handling area and also working closely with ground handlers and airlines to ensure low baggage mishandling and that travellers have short waiting times for their baggage.

He is also involved in the operations of new baggage facilities, such as those at Changi Airport’s recently opened Terminal 4, and the upgrading of current ones.

“I enjoy engaging with our airport partners such as airlines and ground handlers, finding out their operational needs and challenges and coming up with solutions together for these,” he says.

“Most people are not too interested in the intricacies of baggage handling. But most can relate to the feelings of frustration when their bags go missing or long waiting time for their bags. And then I will explain to them how we collaborate with our airport partners such as ground handlers to make data-driven decisions to improve passenger experience in Changi Airport.”

His working hours are regular, mostly from 9 am to 6.30pm. This may surprise many people since an airport never stops functioning.“Things are stable at Changi Airport — that’s a good thing,” he quips.

Early interest in planes and aviation

Luckily for him, his wife — who works in Scoot’s social media department — shares his aviation passion. “We do talk a lot about airports when we travel,” he admits, laughing.

He says his “exposure to planes from young triggered my interest in aviation” — his father was a maintenance officer in the Republic of Singapore Air Force before he retired, while his elder brother, who is six years older, is currently an air warfare officer in the RSAF.

But unlike many other young boys who are fascinated with planes, Mr Chng did not grow up wanting to be a pilot; he is simply more curious about how airports and all their systems function — the nuts and bolts, the data-crunching, the processes.

This interest dovetails with what he studied at Nanyang Technological University —economics. “We deal with a lot of data” is how he explains the relevance of his academic qualifications to his current job.

That said, the importance of being hands-on and on the ground cannot be emphasised enough. “I spend a quarter of my time on the airfield,” he says.

“While formulation and discussion of ideas usually take place in the office, good ideas are based on a foundation of ground knowledge and nothing beats being out in the airfield for that.”

Learning from airports around the world

Similarly, his passion for aviation and airports is constantly fuelled by being, well, out in airports around the world.

When he was an exchange student for six months at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, he travelled within Europe on weekends and got acquainted with many airports in the continent. One that stands out in his memories of that time is the airport in Krakow.

He recalls his experience at the Polish city’s airport warmly “not because it’s a huge airport” nor because it has a great design. In fact, he was delayed checking in because of the long queues. But one aspect of its operations won him over.

“I had a very good experience there with the security clearance,” he explains, in stark contrast to many other travellers’ experience of security checks at airports, which can be tense and even downright unpleasant.

According to him, the amicable airport staff greeted the travellers in queues, explaining in a friendly way what they were doing and even giving soft toys to young children to reassure everyone and allay their concerns.

“It is the personalised experience that matters,” says Mr Chng.

The New Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan is another favourite. He says: “Its terminals are connected by a shopping mall, where the stores are so well curated that a visitor stepping inside them gets a good taste of Japan” — without seeing the rest of the country.

When I travel for leisure, I pay attention to how airports are designed and look out for new ideas that can be implemented in Changi Airport. While it is undoubtedly one of the world’s best airports, we have to guard against complacency, constantly innovate and stay ahead of the game,” he says.

When he tells people what he does for a living, the first question they usually ask him is: “Do you get free air tickets?” He says: “Most people are curious about the perks of the job. But the truth is, most of us work here because we are passionate about what we do.”


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