Asian Aerospace on 24-29 February promises plenty, with civil aviation and UAV conferences slotting in alongside the main air show

The last Asian Aerospace air show, in Singapore in February 2002, was held in the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the USA, but managed to be one of the most successful in its history.

This year, with the war in Iraq and the SARS outbreak that so badly affected Asian airlines in 2003 things of the past - albeit the recent past - organisers expect the 12th show to be even more of a success.

"US interest is particularly strong at the moment," says Asian Aerospace vice-president Trixie Webster. "We're likely to come in at around the same number of visitors and around the same number of exhibitors. That's very positive as 2002 set a number of records for Asian Aerospace."

The 2002 event attracted 747 exhibitors from 36 countries, surprising many with its resilience. The rival air show at Dubai, held just months earlier in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the USA, suffered from a poor turnout and last-minute exhibitor cancellations. A total of 23,433 trade visitors from 78 countries and 40,000 public visitors attended the Singapore show, which is held every two years, and more than $3.2 billion-worth of trade deals were announced.

The show, held this year between 24 and 29 February, is organised by Asian Aerospace and managed by Reed Exhibitions, a sister company of Flight International, which will again be the official publication.

But numbers are not everything, says the organiser, which stresses that ensuring visitors depart with a feeling that they have gained something is key. As a result, returning to the show this year - which the organiser notes will be the first major air show of the new century of powered flight - will be official events on the sidelines.

These include: the Asia-Pacific Security Conference, which will bring together high-level personnel from political, military, corporate and academic sectors; C4I Asia Conference (C4I meaning command, control, communications, computers and intelligence), attended by defence chiefs from around the world; and the AirFreight Expo Conference, focusing on changes in the logistics and air-freight sectors in Asia.

New events

There will also be two new official events, namely the UAV Asia-Pacific Conference, held in partnership with the European Unmanned Vehicle Systems Association; and the International Air Transport Association/Asian Aerospace Aviation Summit, which will be a conference focusing on issues relating to the civil aviation side of the business.

Reed Exhibitions says part of the reason for the IATA-tied event will be to send a message that the show is not just about military aviation. In fact, it is almost a 50:50 split in terms of military to civil content.

"Traditionally, Asian Aerospace has had a lot of conferences, but they have been mostly defence dominated," says Webster. "In terms of official events, conferences and hosted delegations, it has beenmostly military. We now want to have a more balanced programme for the visitors coming through."

But that does not mean defence will be neglected. With the Singapore air force having recently shortlisted three aircraft types in the next-generation fighter competition to replace its McDonnell Douglas A-4SU Super Skyhawks, the competition will no doubt be among the more talked about at the show and a focus for several key exhibitors. The three final contenders in the contest are Boeing's F-15T Eagle, Dassault's Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Webster says Boeing and Dassault have both confirmed that their aircraft will be in the show's flying display, although the Typhoon awaits confirmation.

UAVs will also have a strong showing this year, given their increasing importance to defence and strong potential for sales growth. Asian Aerospace is believed to have secured commitments for a UAV flying demonstration at the show, but the organisers were not able to confirm this as Flight International went to press.

Aerobatic formation displays, which were absent from AA2002, will return this year. Two Indian air force teams will be on show - the Surya Kiran aerobatics team, flying nine Kiran Mk II trainer aircraft, and the Sarang Helicopter Display Team, flying three of India's indigenously manufactured Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters.

Display teams

The Sarang (Peacock) team was formed in August 2003 and the AA2004 display will be its international debut. The Surya Kiran (Rays of the Sun) team will also mark its overseas debut at a major international air show, although it has performed at the Aero India show in Bangalore.

There will also be between 30 and 50 different types of aircraft on static display.

On the civilian front, low-fare airline activity will almost certainly be a talking point. Low-fare carriers have yet to take off in Asia as they have in Europe and the USA, but that is changing fast and there have been many recent developments.

Singapore Airlines is planning to set up a low-fare associate carrier called Tiger Airways in the second half of 2004, in partnership with US and European investors. Also in Singapore, an independent carrier known as ValuAir is planning to start operating around the middle of the year, while successful Malaysian low-fare carrier AirAsia has expressed interest in getting established in Singapore, while carefully venturing into the international market from Malaysia.

AirAsia is already planning to start an associate airline of the same name in Thailand with a local partner. Orient Thai Airlines recently launched a low-faresubsidiary called One-Two-Go, while Thai Airways International plans to start alow-fare carrier of its own, to be known as Sky Asia, around April. In addition, Indonesia has seen the launch of low-fare airlines, while still more are promised in other parts of Asia.

While low-fare carriers generally do not have a presence at air shows, and AA2004 is not likely to be an exception, Webster says Asian Aerospace's organisers are aware of their potential importance in Asia and the subject area will be discussed at the IATA/Asian Aerospace Aviation Summit on 22-23 February.

This year's show will be the last to be staged at the Changi Exhibition Centre, its home for many years. The 2006 show will be moved to a new location with increased floor space.

Close to clients

Asian Aerospace is already one of the world's largest air shows and the organisers are boasting that it is now the second biggest in terms of importance. "Most of the visitors are looking at one show in Europe, and one big show in Asia Pacific," says Webster. "But it's not just size, it's how you can get close to your clients that is important," she adds.

Webster says that to set itself apart from the other major global shows, such as the two European events at Paris and Farnborough and at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Asian Aerospace is working to have a new focus each time, and much of that comes from the official events held on the sidelines.

Organisers of the other major shows may beg to differ about whether Asian Aerospace genuinely is the second most important global air show, but what matters is what the exhibitors and visitors believe.

"We could very well just sit back and allow the show to be the same every time, but there needs to be a focus - changes and offerings that add value," says Webster.

"In that sense we're one of the top two most important and influential shows. Delegations are invited to the same shows everywhere, but what is going to make them want to attend? They need something that adds value."

Source: Flight International