Singapore

Changi's investment arm stays positive despite headwinds

High operating costs and foreign exchange losses put pressure on profits

Changi Airport's good name has helped its foreign investment and consultancy arm spread its wings far and wide, but turning the business into a money spinner has proven tougher than expected.

In the last decade, Changi Airports International (CAI) - a Changi Airport Group subsidiary - has snared countless airport consultancy and development projects in growing aviation markets including China, India, Russia, Brazil, Latin America and the Middle East.

From King Fahd International Airport in Saudi Arabia to Italy's Rome Fiumicino Airport to China's Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport, CAI has left its mark on over 50 airports in more than 20 countries.

This has boosted revenue from $18.5 million in the 2012/2013 financial year to $41 million in the 2015/2016 financial year.

But high operating costs, including taxes, in an already capital-intensive industry, as well as foreign exchange losses, have put pressure on profits, which fell to just $6 million during the same period.

CAI spokesman Teo Lay Cheng said the business is challenging as airports are generally highly-contested assets, sought after not only by airport operators but also sovereign wealth funds, infrastructure funds and pension funds.

"They (airports) generally offer steady returns over the medium to long term and this makes them attractive," she told The Straits Times.

But airports also require significant capital expenditure in capacity expansion and refurbishment, and their returns depend on the regulatory frameworks and capital expenditure requirements, Ms Teo said.

In Brazil, for example, where CAI owns part of Tom Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, major restructuring is under way after CAI's partner, Odebrecht Transport, became embroiled in a corruption scandal.

China's Hainan HNA Infrastructure Investment Group has stepped in to buy over the troubled firm.

Despite the challenges, Ms Teo said CAI takes a long-term view on its projects and the markets it operates in.

"We are confident that these markets will offer many growth opportunities over the next 10 to 15 years," she said.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that global passenger traffic will hit 7.2 billion in 2035, almost double last year's 3.8 billion.

Growing traffic will put pressure on airport infrastructure to expand, providing opportunities for CAI and other industry investors, said analysts.

Within the Asia-Pacific, for example, China and India are growing rapidly.

In a recent report, Airports Council International (Europe) director- general Olivier Jankovec noted the trend towards industry privatisation.

Over 40 per cent of European airports have at least some private shareholders, he said.

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